Gospel Reflection – Your words flow out of what fills your heart
Your words flow out of what fills your heart
On this Sunday we have the third extract from the great sermon on the plain where Jesus sets out the ideals of Christian life. Last Sunday we reflected on the ideal of being forgiving and compassionate like our Father in heaven. The ideal is beyond human nature unaided, but with the supernatural grace of the Holy Spirit, the ideals are within reach. The great sermon continues today with the ideal of the proper use of the gift of speech (Luke 6: 39-45). Words can be good or bad, bringers of light or darkness. “Can one blind man guide another? Surely both will fall into a pit.”
Some years ago, articles in the press debated whether Jesus ever showed a sense of humour and if humour has any place in the bible. Surely the passage we read today had the hearers in fits of laughter. Scholars tell us that Jewish teachers regularly used humour as a method of communication. Listening to Jesus, who could remain deadly serious at the outrageous image of a plank sticking out of somebody’s eye? Or the prospect of figs growing on thorns or grapes on brambles? Put yourself into the story. Don’t just read the gospel but listen to it. Be among the listeners that day. Can’t you hear the tone of humour in the voice of a smiling Jesus? Even when he says the word ‘Hypocrite’? Gentle humour can prove far more effective than cold confrontation in setting an ideal. When an argument starts, there is going to be no winner because each party only hardens its position.
Projection of inner feelings
“Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own?” The joke will be remembered and it might be years later that the listener will apply the lesson to oneself. What I perceive as a large fault in another person is actually revealing more about me than the other person. Psychologists call it projection. Projection is the way that a tiny frame of film is greatly enlarged on the screen. When I make a big issue of another person’s fault, it may be an indication that I should really be examining my own faults. When I point the finger of blame at another person, remember that there are three fingers pointing back at me.
The root of the problem
Jesus continues his parable by literally getting to the root of the problem. “There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit.” In the First Reading today we hear how our words express what resides in the inner heart. “The kiln tests the work of the potter and the test of a person is in one’s conversation. The orchard where the tree grows is judged on the quality of its fruit, similarly a person’s words betray what one feels. Do not praise someone before one has spoken, since this is the test of the person” (Ecclesiaticus 27:4-7).
A small flame can start a forest fire
Among the writers in the bible there is no one so down to earth as Saint James. He really shoots from the hip in his Letter. He tells us that the person who commits no sin in speech must be absolutely perfect. He compares the tongue to the rudder of a boat which is only a small part of the boat but it steers its direction nonetheless. Similarly, a small flame can start a forest fire. “The tongue is a flame too. Among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a whole wicked world: it infects the whole body; catching fire itself from hell, it sets fire to the whole wheel of creation” (James 3:6).
Of course, the tongue can be used for good purposes too: for blessing God and prayer: for consoling, encouraging, affirming or thanking people; for brightening the world through music and humour.
A Lenten Resolution
We will be commencing Lent next Wednesday. How about a resolution about the proper use of the gift of speech? Jesus tells us that our words flow out of what fills the heart. What I say is a good indication of the sort of person I am.
When we were young, we were told that sticks and stones can break your bones but names will never hurt you. Unfortunately, that is not true. Names by which we label people can be very cruel. I cringe in embarrassment as I remember the cruel nicknames we put on fellow students in our boarding school where everyone had a nickname. A song by Albert Hammond, a Canadian singer, expressed the hurt caused by these labels. “Other people teach us what we are, we believe them as a rule.” If I hear that I am stupid or ugly or perverted, the temptation is to believe it. Nowadays the social media are conveyors of shocking character assassination.
The gospel has a story about a woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears. Self-appointed judges at the table murmured, “doesn’t he know that she has a bad name.” Nobody is born with a bad name. It was gossip that decided that it would be bad.
Cynical and sarcastic words can be deeply hurtful. A harsh tone of voice is one of the chief weapons of a bully.
And what about profanity, the wrong use of the names of God? Sad to say, but Irish people must be top of the league of profanity. If words express the inner heart, then the misuse of God’s name reveals a very shallow faith.
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Word of God made flesh. I thank you for the gift of speech. May the Holy Spirit fill me with words to praise you, to bless you, to adore you and thank you. May I never profane your holy name.
May my conversation be helpful, kind and inspiring.
May I bring light to those in darkness, joy to those in sadness, and hope to all who need it.
May I live up to the blessing I received on the day of my baptism that you would touch my ears to receive your word, and my mouth to proclaim my faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.