Commentary on the Readings
8th Sunday in Ordinary Time – March 3, 2019 – Year C
There is only one Master
Like all those who teach the way of God—as the doctors of the temple that the twelve-year-old Jesus went to listen to (Lk 2:46), as the Baptist (Lk 3:12), as Nicodemus (Jn 3:10)—also Jesus is called master by the people. In fact, if we exclude the cases just mentioned, this term (which occurs 48 times in the Gospels) is always referred to and only to him.
Jesus, however, is an original master. He speaks and behaves differently from the others. He does not give his classes in a school; he teaches along the way. He does not require a fee from his listeners, does not reserve his training for an elite of intellectuals. He addresses the poor of the earth, those despised by the masters of Israel wondering: “How can a man who guides the plow become wise, he whose pride lies in snapping a whip and talks of nothing but cattle?” (Sir 38:25). He is a free master in both the interpretation and in the practice of the Torah, but he surprises especially because instead of inviting the disciples to follow the precepts of the Law, from the beginning of his mission, he asks them to follow him. The Law is his person, his life, not the quagmire of rabbinical discussions.
The masters of Israel explained what should be done to please God, relying on their knowledge of the Torah. They presented their teachings, derived from the scriptures, in the words used also by the prophets: “Thus says the Lord.”
Master Jesus speaks differently. He introduces his teachings with the expression: “I tell you,” placing his words alongside those of God.
In the Gospels, the apostles are never called masters, but always and only pupils, disciples who should learn not a lesson but a life, following the only Master.
To internalize the message, we repeat:
“Only one is our master, Christ the Lord, and we are all disciples.”
When someone is finally unmasked who, for a long time, managed to weave intrigues to damage us, plotted in the shadows and always got away, we satisfactorily exclaim: “One day or the other all the bad things that someone has done in the past have come back to bite or haunt the individual.” Certainly, the teeth of the comb may be sparse or dense. We, perhaps, use a large comb for us, while for others we prefer a fine one. Sirach does not use the comparison of the comb, but those of the sieve and the furnace.
At that time, women, before grinding the grain, they placed it in a sieve and they carefully sift to separate it from impurities, from the leaves, from specks, from the chaff. The potters do not even boast of the beauty of their vessel before having it cooked in the fire, passed through the heat of the furnace that could reduce it to pieces.
Today’s reading begins by saying that, in comparison to others, often we behave as women who sift the wheat: we turn and toss them, shake them well, we throw them in the air, exposing them to the wind as long as we cannot bring out all defects, all the waste, all the flaws they have. We act as the potters: we subject them to the test of fire, keep them months and years in the furnace of our strict controls. And only those which are immuned from any defect remain or resist.
If we judge ourselves with the same rigor, we would discover not only the boundaries of others but also our many shortcomings (v. 4).
There are situations where one cannot exempt oneself from expressing judgment and making objective assessments: one cannot give to all the same confidence. It is a must to get a correct idea of the authentic values of the persons to whom one must entrust tasks of great responsibility. So, too, a girl who trusted blindly the first young man she meets would be naive. But what criteria to follow to make informed judgments?
Sirach gives wise advice: we should not be influenced by the first impression. To know what people have in their hearts we must let them talk because “a man is tested by his conversation…a man’s feeling can be detected in what he says” (vv. 5-6). In conclusion, the rule to follow is: “Praise no one before he has spoken, since this is the acid test” (v. 7).
For the fourth consecutive Sunday a passage of the first letter to the Corinthians chapter 15 is proposed to us: Today it is the final one and the theme is always the same: the resurrection.
Paul sums up what he has said: entering the new life people simply do not recover the body they have in this world, but they receive a new one, covered with incorruptibility and immortality (v. 54). So—he says—the word of the Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up by victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (vv. 54-55). The status of the “resurrected” is not comparable to that of one who lives in this world. Death, with all its allies—pain, disease, hunger, violence, hatred—will never have any more power over people, because Christ’s victory will be total and definitive (vv. 56-57).
After this statement, we would expect Paul to recommend to the Corinthian Christians not to set eyes on this world, but to look to heaven where the real life awaits them. Instead nothing! He urges them not to contemplate the wonders that await them but to work, to engage in this world, in the certainty that all the good that they build, all the love they spread will not be lost. “Be steadfast—he says—be firm, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord, knowing that with him, your labor is not without fruit” (v. 58).
In the Gospel of the last two Sundays, we listened to a message that is in stark contrast to the logic of people: all who were considered unhappy people (the poor, the hungry, those who cry, the persecuted) are proclaimed blessed. The successful persons (the rich, the satiated, those who enjoy life) were disowned. There could be no overturning more radical than this.
But that is not enough. The principle of absolute non-violence was also established: a Christian cannot respond to evil with evil, but must always be willing to love even the enemies.
It is about shocking statements. It is inevitable then that, even in the Christian community, some attempt to sweeten them, to make them less harsh, a bit more compatible with human weakness.
Someone says, for example, it is true that one cannot resort to violence, however, in certain cases … one has to forgive, yes, but not to the point of being considered naive and inexperienced. If one teaches the children to be generous at all costs, not to compete, to take the side of the weak, they are placed in a position to be overpowered by the wicked and unscrupulous people.
Those who speak in this way, even if they are Christians, act as false teachers, perhaps without realizing it.
With skillful distinctions and subtle reasonings, they deprive the message of Jesus its explosive power. Today’s Gospel, consisting of a series of the Lord’s sayings, is directed to them.
It starts with a well-known proverb: “Can a blind person lead another blind person?” (v. 39).
One day the disciples told Jesus that the Pharisees were offended by his words. He responds: “Pay no attention to them! They are blind leading the blind” (Mt 15:14). All Jews considered themselves masters capable of guiding the blind, that is, the Gentiles (Rom 2:19-20).
In today’s passage the recipients of the Lord’s dramatic warning are not, however, neither the Pharisees nor the Jews, but the disciples themselves. Even for them, there is a danger of acting like blind guides.
In the Church of the first centuries, the baptized were called the enlightened ones because the light of Christ had opened their eyes. Christians should be those who see well, who know how to choose the right values in life, which are able to indicate the right path to those who grope in darkness.
But this does not always happen and Jesus warns his disciples of the danger of losing the light of the Gospel. They can fall back into the darkness and be led, like the others, by false reasoning dictated by human “common sense.” When this happens in front of them a deadly chasm opens in which those who have trusted them also fall.
False Christian teachers can commit another error, dictated by the presumption: believing that everything they think, say and do is wise, just and in conformity with the Gospel.
They feel to have the right to issue instructions in the name of Christ, with such security as to give the impression that they substituted the Master, nay more, that they are superior. They demand titles, privileges, honors, powers that even the Master never claims to have.
To anyone in the community who feels invested with a similar authority, Jesus recalls another proverb: “A disciple is not above his master, but when fully trained he will be like his master” (v. 40).
The danger against which Jesus warns is above all to identify our own ideas, beliefs, projects with his thoughts. It is a reckless presumption, thoughtless, forgetting that we are only disciples; we feel like masters, indeed, we may behave as if we were superior to the Master.
It is not over. These false teachers claim to themselves a right even more exorbitant; they do something that Jesus himself never wanted to do (Jn 3:17): they judge, pronounce sentences against the brothers. For them, the parable of the speck and the log is told (vv. 41-42).
It is an invitation to be wary of Christians who feel always right, always sure of what they say, teach and do. They do not realize that they have before in their eyes huge logs that prevent them from seeing the light. Which ones? Passions, envy, desire to rule over others, ignorance, fear, psychological disorders from which no mortal is completely exempted. All these are big “beams” that prevent to clearly grasp the demands of the word of God. We must take this into account and act humbly in a less presumptuous way, be less strict in imposing our vision of reality and less confident judging the others’ performance.
An example to help us to understand. For many centuries Christians have claimed that there are just wars and that, in certain situations, it is even a duty to take up arms. They even waged wars in the name of the Gospel. How could this happen if Jesus spoke so clearly of loving the enemy? The explanation is: the logs of pride, intolerance, dogmatism, fundamentalism that Christians had before their eyes and they do not even realize of having prevented to notice the Gospel demands.
If today we are forced to admit that on many occasions we have shown ourselves blind, we must be very cautious in judging, imposing our beliefs, and in condemning those who express different opinions. It may be that what we think is right, maybe it is truly evangelical. However, Jesus wants that the Christian proposal is made with great humility, with great discretion and respect and, above all, never judging those who cannot understand it, those who do not feel like accepting it. The possibility of having a log in front of the eyes is not remote and must not be forgotten!
To conclude this first part of the Gospel, Jesus calls hypocrites these “judges,” these Christian “masters” so sure of themselves and their ideas. Hypocrites means “actors,” “people acting in theaters.” Those who judge others, for Jesus, are actors. They are also sinners, but “they recite”: they sit in court as judges and pronounce terrible judgments .
Luke is clearly worried by what is happening in his communities, divided by criticisms, gossips, and malicious judgments. For this, he recalls the harsh words of the Lord about it.
How to distinguish the good from the bad teachers in Christian community? How to know whom to trust and not to trust? How to recognize those who are blind or have logs before the eyes?
The last part of today’s Gospel (vv. 43-45) provides the criteria to judge: “The good person draws good things from the good stored in his heart and an evil person draws evil things from the evil stored in his heart. For the mouth speaks from the fullness of the heart.”
We are used to interpreting these words of Jesus as an invitation to evaluate people based on the works they perform. This is the meaning they have in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 7:15-20); but in the Gospel of Luke, they have a different meaning.
It is clear from the context that “the fruits” are the message that the Christian teachers announce. This message can be good or bad.
Like Sirach—we heard him in the first reading—Jesus, too, invites us to evaluate teachers according to their words: “For the mouth speaks from the fullness of the heart.” (v. 45). What they announce must always be confronted with the Gospel. Then we can evaluate if what is proposed is nutritious food or a poisonous fruit.
There is a video by Fr. Fernando Armellini with English subtitles commenting on today’s Gospel reading: