There is a group of friends with whom I meet on a somewhat regular basis. We meet regularly because we have a holy mission from God: we are responsible to devise solutions for all the world’s problems. Thus far, we have solved every political, economic, social, and personal problem that anyone has ever experienced.
There is only one issue that remains to be addressed. Thus far, we haven’t quite been able to remember, record, or institute any of our brilliant solutions to the world’s most serious challenges. As this is a rather important task for anyone in any position of leadership, we continue to meet on a regular basis.
Today’s Gospel reading contains advice for anyone in any leadership position; it is, however, addressed directly to those in positions of religious leadership. The section of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain that constitutes today’s Gospel reading is composed of two related sets of wisdom sayings from Jesus. Each set is concluded by a short summary statement.
Jesus said, “Can a blind person lead another blind person? Won’t both of them fall into a ditch?” (Lk. 6:39) Similar sayings follow and Jesus concludes the set of sayings with the summary, “First, take the log out of your own eye, then you will be able to see the twig in your brother’s eye.” (Lk. 6:42) The second set of wisdom sayings follows; Jesus summarizes them by saying, “One speaks from the harvest of one’s heart.” (Lk. 6:45)
Seeing and reaping are two of Jesus’ favorite similes for faith. In the Gospels, being able to see means being able to see Jesus’ true identity as God’s Suffering Servant. Jesus’ agriculturally-themed parables were usually addressed to individuals who held positions of religious leadership; sometimes, these were the disciples and, at other times, these were the scribes and Pharisees. The sayings in today’s Gospel reading, then, are sayings addressed to religious leaders about authentic faith.
The first set of sayings makes the obvious, if politically incorrect, observation that a blind person cannot give reliable warnings about unforeseen dangers. Jesus’ message is the simple, common-sense observation that one can give to another only what one already possesses. The second set of sayings points out that like produces like.
Although the sequence of these wisdom sayings was arranged by the author of Luke’s Gospel, it reflects the ancient Hebrew understanding of the human body: what enters through the eyes takes up residence in the heart. In the rather primitive understanding of physiology that existed during Jesus’ lifetime, the eyes were organs of intellectual perception and the heart was the organ of intellectual understanding. His words, “One speaks from the harvest of one’s heart” (Lk. 6:45) is the equivalent of saying that the object(s) of the focus of one’s attention become the content of one’s thought(s). This, in itself, is not startling but it has significant ramifications for the practice of religion and the responsibilities that belong to religious leaders.
At this juncture, I am sorely tempted to address some of the major issues facing the Church; in particular, I am tempted to mention the problematic issues that have resulted from the actions and inaction of our Church’s leadership. To do so, however, would be contrary to Jesus’ teaching contained in the wisdom sayings in today’s Gospel reading.
Jesus says, “One speaks from the harvest of one’s heart.” (Lk. 6:45) That is to say that the focus of one’s attention becomes the content of one’s soul, and the content of one’s soul is expressed in one’s speech. Each person must take the utmost care, then, about how the soul is nourished. Focusing on the problems and failings of others fills one’s soul with problems and failings. Focusing on one’s individual responsibility to learn and practice Jesus’ teachings fills the soul with Jesus’ teachings.
When my friends and I gather to solve all the world’s problems, we do so more as an expression of our frustrations than as a demonstration of our omnipotence. Such is the nature of human existence. As St. Paul mentions in the second reading, the corruptible, mortal nature of the world has not yet been transformed into incorruptibility. (1 Cor. 15:54) For the time being, then, we should expect the world to continue to bear the burden of problems and failings.
There is something substantive that can be done in the meantime, though. We can take to heart Jesus’ teaching and, by doing so, experience now the promise of immortality yet to come. We can take leadership responsibility for our own lives and faith; we can make the primary focus of our lives those things that build faith, love for God, and Church community.
If you truly care about the problems that afflict the world and yourself, put Jesus’ teachings into daily practice. “First, take the log out of your own eye, then you will be able to see the twig in your brother’s eye.” (Lk. 6:42)