Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 27:4-7 | 1 Corinthians 15:54-58 | Luke 6:39-45
Grant us, oh Lord, we pray, that the course of our world may be directed by your peaceful rule, that your church may rejoice untroubled in her devotion. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
It’s rare to find somebody to talk to who thinks the world is just in this wonderful place, and everything is exactly as it should be, and we should all be just thankful for everything going on. There’s a little truth in that, but still it means that we have to look at the world when it’s out of balance and recognize it and learn from it. We’re beings that evolve. We change, and the whole nature of human beings evolving and changing has to do with seeing things for what they are, realizing that they could be dangerous, destructive. And so we have to figure out a way to change who we are in order to adapt to this new danger. It’s the way human beings have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years. It would usually be something as simple as the weather changed dramatically, and they’d have to figure out a way to live in a world where they needed fire, where before they didn’t, something like that. It’s just an amazing process, and it’s important to know that we are not finished with our evolution. I used to think, “We’re so sophisticated, so smart. We can do so much. We’ve just reached the pinnacle of what it means to be a human.” But the pinnacle of being a human is not in its mind and it’s able to create things and do things, but the pinnacle of a human being is their spiritual growth — their spiritual growth, their wisdom, their understanding of why we’re here, who we are, who God is. Those are the ultimate questions. Yes, it’s great we can invent something that solves a problem. That’s part of our evolutionary process, but we need to be changed in order to meet the problems of the world, and that’s where we count on our faith in God, because God is the one who is not necessarily the one who will come and fix everything. No, he likes us to learn how to take care of ourselves in this world. So he empowers you and me to face the crisis, to face the situation.
Look at the first reading from Sirach. It’s about wisdom. He uses three images. A sieve is like a strainer, where you shake it, and the grain of wheat that is nourishing falls to the ground; the husk remains in the strainer. Also we know that, when a man does pottery, he places the pottery in a kiln, and if it’s not really done well, you go to get it out, and it’s broken. So you can test someone’s ability to make good pottery as it endures the furnace, and then when someone speaks, it’s not the words that work. It’s their understanding of the words and their intention with why their speaking, so integrity of who we are. When we say what we say, we mean it. When we teach something that we believe in, it’s not because we’re told to teach it. It’s because we do truly believe it. We’ve been tested as to whether or not we really believe it, and it’s made stronger in our hearts. And then we’ve been actually able to get rid of the stuff that isn’t really nourishing, the husks, and we go right for the wheat and nourishment. It’s an image of how we evolve into nurturing creatures, not just talking creatures, not just doing creatures but creatures that have virtue, and virtue is a power given to a human from a higher power, divine, where they’re able to see and to accomplish things that they could never see or accomplish on their own. And that’s an inner transformation. That’s not being told what to do. You’re changed so you will do the thing, and when you have that change in you and you speak, your very speech carries the virtue, and the virtue is given to a new heart. It’s why some people can talk to you, and it’s just like words, words, words. Other people talk to you, and you are changed, changed, changed. It’s all about the intention of the heart of the one speaking.
So we seem to be living in a world where talk is cheap. All you have to say is, “I never did anything like that. I deny those accusations.” And no matter how hard we try to prove to the world that this kind of behavior is negative and destructive, the person who causes it looks at you and says, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” So if you don’t want to see the truth that is being exposed by the lies that are being told, you’ll never change, and people do that today. “I believe what the man said. I don’t believe that he would ever do those horrible things. Those are all fake accusations.” Are they? How do you know they’re fake? How do you know what’s true? How do you know what’s true from what’s false? Well, it’s an amazing, amazing thing, amazing process, and I’m calling it evolution, but we can also call it grace, unmerited love, God giving us something.
I don't know where you are in this continuum of evolution, but the one way to look at it is you’ll see in salvation history two epics, two times, so to speak. One is a time when God entered into the world and wanted people to know one single truth. “I am the only God. There’s no other God.” That’s the work of the Old Testament, monotheism. In the meantime, while you’re learning that God is the only God, you’re seeing him work like the other gods work. It’s the way he decided to reveal himself. He didn’t come in and reveal himself as he did in Jesus at the very beginning, because nobody would have comprehended it. They weren’t evolved far enough to even comprehend the notion of mercy, understanding, compassion. What? That made no sense, because one of the major evolutionary points the human race has come through is the one where we move from a self-centered existence, where it’s all about survival, it’s all about me, and you cross this incredible threshold, and then it’s all about others. It’s all about what’s true. It’s about virtue, helping people. I’d like you to think that that moment, that liminal moment between those two worlds is what we’re celebrating when the fullness of Christ’s message comes to us through Jesus. It’s an amazing message of hope and trust and goodness and life, and do you know that that message, when it was heard by those who were living in the Old Testament, a place of the law, not mercy, they were so frightened by it, because it so threatened their entire system of controlling people with the law that they had to kill him. They had to destroy him, but he implanted this image of a new way of being in the world in the hearts of his disciples. And they became apostles, which are the ones sent out, and they started teaching it to people. There was a small group of people evolved enough to receive that message, and they took it in, and it changed their lives, and they began to take care of people. They actually took care of people that were sick. They actually seemed to care for sinners, because everyone at that time, in people’s imaginations, that were sick or crazy or diseased of some kind, that was all God. God punishes people who don’t keep the law.
It’s interesting. Paul is talking about the law, and he says death is a thing we worry about if you live in that first part of evolution, me losing me, me not being served, me not being taken care of. That is the greatest fear. So more than anything else, you want to protect yourself, and Jesus is trying to say something quite different. And here’s Paul, one of his apostles that he taught, and Paul is saying, “Look, that system of the law is so dangerous. It’s so frightening. Watch out for it, because what it is, is the real power of that old system, the real power is in the law, and the law is what controls you.” And Jesus came into the world not to destroy it but to change our understanding of the law. It’s not a written rule by someone in authority making you do something that you don’t really want to do. That’s the way the law was presented in the Old Testament. Everybody wants to do the wrong thing, but here’s God saying, “You must do the right thing, and if you don’t do the right thing, I will kill you. I will destroy you.” So the real sting that’s in this thing called death is an understanding of death where it ends up being the place where you’re judged as to whether or not you’re worthy or not, and the sting is this sort of poisonous fear that I won’t make it, that if I don’t perform better, if I don’t give my will over to another authority greater than myself, if I don’t do that, I’m going to die. And where does the law get all that kind of power? Where does it come from? Basically it comes from the fact that the law, if you don’t keep it, will destroy you. That’s the power of it, death, the fear of death.
Jesus comes and says, “That’s important for people who have low levels of consciousness, but I want to say something completely new, because I’m looking at the people that have lived in this world of law, the Pharisees, the scribes.” He said, “I look at them. I see my people burdened with all these rules and laws. I see these men so blinded to what they’re doing.” Because they’re blind to what is happening, they end up imprisoning their role as spiritual leaders. It’s all imprisoned in this self-centered system of control. So Jesus said, “We’ve got to change that. We’ve got to completely change it,” because of one thing, blind people. The law has blinded the Pharisees and the scribes who are religious leaders, because the law doesn’t change your heart. The law just makes your will function a certain way, because the brain is afraid to die. That’s all he saw, and he said, “What happens is then you stay in your corruption. You won’t look at what’s going on. You won’t say there’s something unjust about a system that won’t help people. You don’t say there’s something wrong with a system that divides people into classes and makes some more worthy than others. That’s just the way it is.” The beam in the eye of a person who’s living solely under the law is one that keeps them from seeing what they’re actually doing, because they’re not breaking the law. Everything is fine. It also has this insidious way of making the person who’s blinded so irrationally critical of anyone that breaks the law. Isn’t that interesting? If you live by a law of, let’s say, you have to do things correctly, when somebody isn’t, you’re not concerned about them and want them to change because the law will help them be a better person. No, you’re so blinded by the addiction to controlling people that you condemn them unmercifully, and that’s what the church had become, a church without a heart, a religion that was so caught in a way of controlling under-evolved people, and it had to be that way. It had to be. We still have laws for that kind of thing. We can’t live without law, but what’s in its place? Mercy, forgiveness, compassion, understanding. Remove the beam in your eye, control, law, punishment, because your sin of not seeing is a zillion times more deadly than the people you have put the same blindness in their eyes. You haven’t blocked their vision. They’re not completely blind, but you can’t help them. You can’t free them, and what is it they’re supposed to do? Become the people that God intended them to be to allow discernment and testing, all of that. Open their eyes so they can see what the world is really about and how it changes. Why couldn’t they do that? This is important for me to say. Because they didn’t know how. They really didn’t.
It’s when Jesus is on the cross, I think. He said, “Look, they don’t know what they’re doing. They’re rejecting the very thing they long for more than anything else. They don’t know.” And so he took the curse of the condemning law on his head and let it do its work, and then he burst forth in the most amazing, new life. He endured it. He’s telling people, “Now is the chance I have to teach you what you need to do, what you need to have in order to endure it, to endure the insanity of the law, the destruction of it, the sting of it and enter into a new world.” And the world is the world of Jesus coming into the world and not telling people what to do but offering something that you can’t describe, but I know it happened, because look at the fruitfulness of the world today compared to back then. It’s called redemption. “I’ll free you from your blindness. I’ll open your eyes so you can see, and the person in you that’s been imprisoned in this horrible place of control, power. I’ll break you out of that, and I will do this for you, because I know you’re ready for it now. You’re ready. You can receive this, and you know what? All that burden of doing what you don’t want to do, the burden of worrying about whether you’re going to be punished or kicked out or fired or divorced, I’m going to take all that burden off of you and give you a heart that is alive and full of the thing called compassion and understanding that overrides the heart, that loves the law, loves knowing what needs to be done and can control it without any support of anyone else.” But mercy, compassion, understanding, the only way that’s there in us is when God dwells in our hearts, and that’s the miracle of redemption.
Father, we ask you to help us to understand more fully the ministry of your Son who revealed who you are, what your intention is and how you invite us to partner with you to do this work and has revealed to us the way in which this kind of work is so satisfying, so life-giving that, once we see it, once we experience it, we cannot not do it. Virtue is your gift of grace, and that virtue is the ability to not just speak the truth but to convince people of the truth, not to inform them but to transform them. So we give you praise and thanks for this great gift, and we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.