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Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C (1)
Some of you might like to watch quiz shows on television. The contestants are asked questions and win prizes if they give the right answer. Asking questions can be fun. Suppose I had a prize this morning for the person who could list all Ten Commandments, would you win? I wonder how many adults would win that prize?
Actually I have a prize for each of you. I am going to give it to you just to think about a question. It is a sad question. It is a question Jesus once asked his followers: “Why do you call me Lord and not do what I tell you?” That is a hard question. Why do people say they love Jesus and then tell things that aren’t true? Why do people say they love Jesus and try to hurt other people? If we love Jesus, we always try to do the right thing, don’t we? Sometimes we goof. None of us is perfect, but if we love Jesus we try to be the kind of person he would want us to be, don’t we?
Author Tim Storey tells a great story about how easy it is to rush to pass judgement on others. Tim pulled up in front of his neighborhood barber shop and parked. As he fished around for his wallet, he felt the sickening crunch of metal hitting metal. Somebody hit his car! What an idiot! But when he jumped out to look, Tim didn’t see anyone. As he was muttering under his breath about stupid drivers, a little old lady came out of the barber shop and announced, “I saw the whole thing.” Turns out, he was the stupid driver. Instead of putting his car in park, Tim had accidentally shifted it into reverse. No one had hit him; he had backed into the car behind him.
“Can a blind man act as a guide to a blind man. Will they not both fall into a ditch?”
People cannot teach until they have learned. This is true in every aspect of life, but particularly in the Church. In the Catholic Church we are blessed with a teaching authority. This authority is often given the Latin word for teacher and called the magisterium. The magisterium consists in the Pope, the Bishops, theologians and consultants. The duty of the magisterium is to set the course for us to relate our faith and morals to the evolving times. We take this for granted because most of us have always been Catholic and have always had the body of our faith presented in a rather neat package. But dogmatic statements didn’t just happen. They evolved over many centuries as the Church continues to grow in its understanding of itself.
The magisterium does not just exist among the hierarchy. It also exists in the home among the confirmed. Those who have received the sacrament of confirmation have received the gift of the Holy Spirit to grow in their understanding of the faith. When, as all human beings, we have times of doubt, or times that we have difficulty understanding what we believe or why we believe, we have to go to books and knowledgeable people in the area. We also have to go to our knees and pray to Holy Spirit to help us grow in faith. The blind cannot lead the blind. That is why we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit. That is why we have the magisterium.
It’s so easy to pass judgement without all the facts, isn’t it? The other guy is the stupid driver. Jesus could have just as well been talking to us when he said, “Why do you worry about the speck that is in your neighbor’s eye, but pay no attention to the 2″ x 4″ protruding from your own eye?” (Paraphrase) We all do it, don’t we? We look for flaws in others and ignore our own. Actually, that is not too surprising.
Psychologist might restate this statement in these terms: we tend to transfer our irritation over our own failings to others. So we decry another person’s faults as a way of hiding our own. The Lord was quite a psychologist when he said, “First deal with your own faults.” When we go through those negative days when everything other people do irritates us, we have to take a step back and consider what we are doing that upsets others, and, even more, what we are doing that upsets ourselves.
It is so easy to criticize, so easy to judge. But we don’t know the other person’s circumstances or expectations. We don’t know the burdens that they carry. But God knows. He knows the road that each one of us has traveled. Also, God has two vitally important attributes that we don’t have: perfect holiness and perfect love. All of God’s judgements are filtered through His holiness and His love for us. Our judgements are stained by feelings of revenge, self-righteousness, anger, contempt, jealousy. God doesn’t have that problem. No matter what we have done in life, God continues to love us. No sin can shock Him. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
A woman who was dying of AIDS summoned a chaplain to comfort her. Her emotional pain was as real as her physical pain. Everything seemed hopeless. “I’m lost,” she said, “I’ve ruined my life and every life around me. I’m headed for hell. There’s no hope for me.” The chaplain saw a framed picture of a pretty girl on the dresser. “Who is that?” he asked. The woman brightened, “She’s my daughter, the one beautiful thing in my life.” “Would you help her if she was in trouble, no matter how many mistakes she’d made? Would you forgive her if she asked you to? Would you still love her, no matter what?” “Of course I would,” the woman exclaimed. “Why would you even ask a question like that?” “Because I want you to understand,” explained the minister, “That God has a picture of you on His dresser too.”
This passage contains a warning: we are imperfect judges. Then, it contains a note of hope: only God, who loves us, can properly judge us.
“A good tree does not produce decayed fruit any more than a decayed tree produces good fruit. Each tree is known by its yield.”
The final statement is that each tree is known by its fruit. When a person does good things, we know this is a good person. When a person is continually stirring up trouble, we know that this person is troubled. The fruit reveals the person. In the same way, it is not enough for us to say we are saved and then live as pagans. Our actions must reflect God’s gift to us. If they don’t, then we are in fact rejecting his grace. Yes, we always depend upon the mercy of God, but we have to respond to this mercy by doing our best to live the Christian life. If we don’t than our fruits, our actions will demonstrate the insincerity of our conversion.
GOD JUDGES OUR INWARD ATTITUDE JUST AS MUCH AS OUR OUTWARD ACTIONS. Uh-oh. To the rest of the world, we may look like paragons of virtue. By our actions, we may appear holy enough to walk on water. But God doesn’t just judge us by our actions; our thoughts and attitudes are equally important in His sight.
Nothing can make up for a heart full of hate. In order to live a life that is pleasing to God, it is essential to get our heart and our actions in perfect alignment. When our car’s wheels get out of alignment, we start to notice a little shimmy in the car. A little extra vibration. At first, it’s just a little distracting. But if we don’t take the car in and get it fixed, that little shimmy will soon turn into a big problem. If we want the wheels to be aligned properly, we must turn the car over to a good mechanic and let him or her work on it. And it’s the same way with our heart. We can’t purify our hearts on our own; we do not have the capacity for holiness within ourselves. We must turn our hearts over to God and let His Holy Spirit work in us.
A guilty man was to be sentenced. The man’s mother, a poor widow, wrote a letter to Judge Lowrey, asking him to overturn the judgement and forget the fine. She explained that her son was broke and unemployed; it would fall on her shoulders to pay his fine. The financial burden was more than she could bear.
With tears in his eyes, the judge signed the docket which sealed the poor man’s fate and adjourned the court. To remit the fine would violate his oath to uphold the law, and justice would suffer for the sake of mercy. But when the judge wrote back to the widow, he enclosed with his letter a personal check to cover both the fine and court costs. Concluding his letter, he said, “I send this check with joy because it gives me the opportunity to be both merciful and just.”
That is the kind of judge God is. He is the perfect judge, both merciful and just. All of God’s judgements are filtered through His perfect holiness and His perfect love. Why are we commanded not to judge one another? Because we’re no good at playing God. Until we can love as God loves, then we cannot judge as God judges. But let us strive every day toward greater holiness and greater love, so that our own thoughts and actions will be acceptable in God’s sight.
This Wednesday Lent begins. I need this Lent. Perhaps you do too. Lent is a time for us to grow in our faith life, let the magisterium and Holy Spirit guide us. Lent is a time for us to look into ourselves. How is the upset we have with others a reflection of our own faults? Lent is a time to consider our living of the Christian life. Do our actions demonstrate Christ’s continuing conversion in our lives?
May you and I allow God to take control of every aspect of our lives.