March 3, 2019 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time Fr Jim Miller

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1 SIR 27:4-7

Responsorial Psalm PS 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16

  1. (cf. 2a) Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.

Reading 2 1 COR 15:54-58

Alleluia PHIL 2:15D, 16A

 Shine like lights in the world
as you hold on to the word of life.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 6:39-45

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time—March 2 & 3, 2019


            Ben Sira, the author of the book of Sirach, was something of a popular philosopher of the second century before the time of Christ.  The purpose of his writing was not to put forth a particular system of thought or retell scriptural traditions, but rather to harmonize and synthesize what the tradition had given him in inheritance.  His goal was to harmonize the Mosaic tradition of salvation history with the wisdom traditions that focused more on creation.  The book of Sirach is also called Ecclesiasticus because of its use by the church of the early centuries as a source of moral teaching.  Sirach is accepted as part of the canon of Scripture by the Catholic tradition but not by some others.

            The introduction to the Book of Sirach explains that Ben Sira’s grandson collected his writings for posterity.  We might picture a grandson listening to his grandfather share pearls of wisdom. 

            The saying that I remember from my grandfather is “many hands make light work”.

            Ben Sira understood the idea of psychological projection:  When you critique others, you are often revealing your own faults.  Ben Sira advises us to withhold judgment on people until we hear what they have to say.  Sirach’s homey wisdom is part of the tradition from which Jesus drew his store of sayings.

            In Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain,” Jesus gathers with his closest disciples in a meadow or field near Capernaum.  He instructs them like a Greek philosopher initiating his inmost circle into the world’s mysteries.  Elements from the Sermon on the Plain appear in each of the other Gospels, but only Luke brings them together into a unified statement of teaching.  Unlike Matthew, who portrayed Jesus as a rabbi, Luke uses this sermon to depict Jesus as a philosopher-prophet.  Such a character would be specially appealing to the Hellenized Jews who many scholars believe composed Luke’s audience. 

            Luke structures the account in this Sunday’s Gospel passage around two proverbs, which he calls “parables.”  The first, “Can a blind person guide a blind person?” encourages self-scrutiny, a practice highly valued among Greek thinkers.  Jesus is especially severe with the disciples.  If they learn well, they will become like him; but if they fall prey to self-deception, they will fail and drag others down too.

            In the second proverb, “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,”  Jesus reminds his followers of the dangers of hypocrisy.  A hypocritical disciple can say all the right words and can even perform certain highly visible actions, but only those with true commitment and perseverance will live according to the Gospel.  The pattern of their consistent deeds will reveal the nature of their inner character.

            Silvano Fausti, an Italian Jesuit Scripture scholar, tells us that the sayings we hear today elucidate Jesus’ command in Luke 6:36:  “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

            When we allow that command to be the interpretive lens through which to understand this passage, we are led to ask what blindness Jesus is talking about.  True, he may have used the phrase as a gimmick to get his audience’s eyes to sparkle with humor, but that was simply his way to prepare them for what he wanted them to grapple with as they listened and then again, as they went along the way home.  Fausti suggests that the blind guides to whom Jesus refers are the leaders who don’t know their own need for mercy, who have not experienced mercy, and who therefore cannot act with mercy.  Whether with humor, compassion or harsh sayings, Jesus called people forth with the intent to open them up to new possibilities.  The only people Jesus ever called condemned were those who chose to ignore his invitation and refused to admit their need for conversion and growth. (See John 9:41)

            It is well and good to follow someone else’s lead, provided that your guide knows where she or he is going.  What are some practical measures to ensure that we are not blind guides, for ourselves or others?  Spiritual reading, studying the faith, prayer, silence, penance, and frequent reception of the sacraments are important in our lives.  With the beginning of Lent happening this Wednesday what are you going to do in the way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving?  You might ask a good friend to help you choose your Lenten activity.  The journey that concerns Jesus is the spiritual one – walking through our earthly lives in a way, ultimately, that will lead us home to heaven.

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