Quite often, we see a news item that calls someone out for using derogatory speech directed at another human being. Most of us guard ourselves to speak in ways that are respectful of others, but in times of anger or frustration, words might come out that are more reflective of our inner attitudes. The Scriptures for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time offer a solution to that recurring problem of embarrassing and derogatory speech.
The Scriptures tell us that our job is to purify our attitudes, rather than merely controlling the words that come out of our mouth. They remind us that if the attitudes of our mind and heart are pure and holy, we won’t really need to worry about what words come out. They will reflect those holy and good attitudes.
Even though the wisdom of God is expressed very clearly in the Scriptures this weekend, many of us choose to act in a different way. Instead of noticing the beam in our own eye, we spend our time finding the splinters in others’ eyes. Instead of looking at the unholy attitudes and beliefs that reside in our own minds and hearts, we judge the outward appearance of others and draw attention through negativity and cynicism toward them instead of toward our own hearts. We escape the honesty that we need by drawing attention to what we think we see in others.
Instead of being evasive with ourselves in terms of our own inner attitudes and judgments, we are called to stop judging others, and instead notice and address the destructive attitudes in our minds and hearts. We are approaching Lent, a very special season in which we are called to be enlightened and purified. To be able to do that takes courage and humility. It will take more than giving up chocolate or beer for Lent. It will take a choice on our part to be more honest with ourselves and more forthright with the choices that we make with our own lives.
Be mindful of the areas that you were looking into that reside deep within. We are most often in touch with those areas when there is an external trigger that occurs. We might see something in the news that seems to give credence to a negative or hateful attitude that we have in our hearts. We follow the pattern that leads to the formation of prejudice and hatred in a human heart. We see someone act in a certain way that we believe to be wrong, but we quickly expand that belief about behavior to include everyone who acts, looks or worships like that person. We make blanket judgments about groups of people based on the behavior of one or two examples. None of us would like to be judged by another person who looks like us or comes from the same country as we do. We wish that people would take us for the person that we are and not judge us by the behavior of others. But how often do we do that to others?
How can we come to deeper honesty about ourselves that could lead to deeper purification and a more expansive holiness? When we look for wisdom about human existence, there’s a natural tendency to look at the life of Jesus to teach us. During His time, there was an encouragement to spend time only with those who are like you, who practiced the same religion and who came from the same racial background. In spite of this, He seemed to do just the opposite. He knew that great wisdom and great brotherhood and sisterhood resides in accompaniment and relationship with all people, not just those who are like us. When we form those relationships, we come to understand and to know another human being for who she or he is, not for what our prejudices would tell us.
The Scriptures this weekend certainly invite us to experience the wider oneness of God’s people and to experience our sisterhood and brotherhood with all people, not just those we feel most comfortable with.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.