Sunday, March 03, 2019

The Right End of the Telescope

8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Picture: cc Charles Nadeau

My dear friends, have you ever looked through the wrong end of a telescope? Even if you haven’t, it’s not too difficult to imagine what will happen if you do, right? A telescope is meant to help us see things more clearly, to make faraway things appear closer. But it works only if I look through the correct end of the telescope. If I look through the wrong end, then things that should look clearer actually become more difficult to see. And I may not even realise it.

I’m not sure, my dear friends, but I believe something like this is true also of our Mass readings today. In a way, the readings provide us with something like a telescope, which can help us see things more clearly. To look at the world more wisely. So as to be able to distinguish the good from the bad, the helpful from the harmful, the things that lead us to God from those that lead us astray. But we need to be careful not to look through the wrong end of the telescope.

As you’ve probably noticed, both the first reading and the gospel provide us with similar advice about how to discover what is in a person’s heart. How do we find out whether someone has good intentions or bad? The answer seems simple enough. Just wait for the person to speak, and then consider the quality of the words that come out of that person’s mouth. Or wait for a person to act, and then consider the effects of the person’s actions. For just as a tree can be judged by its fruit, so too can a person’s words and actions tell us what fills that person’s heart. Good fruit, good tree. Good words and actions, good heart.

But if this is all I get from the readings, then I may be  tempted to go around quickly judging everyone by their words and actions. Have you ever been tempted to do this? To allow what someone says and does to lead you to dismiss that person as evil and ungodly. Of course, when I do this, I may perhaps sometimes get it right. And yet, isn’t it true that I may just as often get it wrong? Indeed, when we examine the readings more closely, we begin to realise that seeing things in this way may actually be the same as looking through the wrong end of the telescope. It may make what should appear clearer even more difficult to see.

Notice how, in the gospel, for example, Jesus’s advice about judging a tree by its fruit, actually comes immediately after his warning to us not to be too quick to judge others. Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye, the Lord says, and never notice the plank in your own? … Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye. These are very strong words, aren’t they? I have to confess that they make me uncomfortable.

And yet, it is important that I pay close attention to them, because they help me to better understand Jesus’s words about judging a tree by its fruit. If the Lord wants me to first remove the plank from my own eye, then doesn’t it follow that the tree I’m supposed to judge first of all, is not someone else’s heart but my own? And how do I judge my own heart? How do I take the plank out of my own eye? I who am at least as blind as the next person, if not even more so?

I can do this only by carefully and regularly examining the words that often come out of my own mouth, as well as the actions that I habitually perform in my own life. I need to pay special attention, not just to the words and actions that I may sometimes use to protect myself and to hurt others, but also to the times when I choose to remain silent, when I really should say something. Or when I choose to remain passive, when I really should do something. I need to allow all my destructive speeches and silences, my selfish actions and omissions to uncover for me the darker intentions of my own heart. So that I may repent of my sinfulness, and seek God’s mercy.

But that’s not all. When I do experience God’s mercy, which is freely offered to me, especially in the Dying and Rising of Christ the Lord, I may then be moved to raise my voice in praise and thanksgiving to God. As we are all gathered here this morning to do at this Mass. In the words of the responsorial psalm, to proclaim God’s love in the morning and God’s truth in the watches of the night…

And not only am I led to speak words of praise and thanks for God’s mercy, I may also be inspired to express that same gratitude in godly acts of mercy. Which includes taking steps to protect those who may suffer from the evil done by others and even by me. As the second reading tells us, to keep on working at the Lord’s work always, knowing that, in the Lord, you cannot be labouring in vain.

To be led first to search one’s own heart in honest self-examination and repentance, and then to speak earnest words of gratitude and praise, as well as to perform merciful actions in the Lord’s service. Isn’t this what it means to look through the correct end of the telescope? To begin by gazing into a mirror of self-examination, rather than by pointing a finger of accusation at others. Isn’t this the way by which we can see more clearly, judge more wisely, respond more properly to the many often confusing events that are happening around us today? Not just big events like the sexual abuse scandals currently rocking our Church. But also smaller, but no less important, events, like those that may take place in our own families and communities, our own workplaces and schools and parishes.

My dear sisters and brothers, what must we do to ensure that we  keep looking at our lives and at our world through the correct end of the telescope today?

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