In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us that as followers of Christ we have work to do: “Be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord.” The Gospel Acclamation further instructs us: “Shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life.” And Jesus in the Gospel speaks about guides. We can gather from these passages that we are called to shine the light of the Gospel in the world, so as to guide those around us to the Lord. Then, by the grace of God we, and they, will come to the time of which Paul speaks: “When this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: Death is swallowed up in victory.… Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We have been called to guide others to encounter the love and mercy of Jesus, but Jesus points out to us that there is a problem: we might be blind guides. In our weakness and sin, we are not able to guide others because we do not know and follow the way ourselves. Jesus says that we are like people walking around with large wooden beams in our eyes. How can we possibly guide anyone else when we ourselves cannot see clearly?
If we think that we do not have beams in our eyes, then the first reading gives us a clue for how to see the truth of what Jesus is saying. “One’s speech discloses the bent of one’s mind.” We can get a sense of how well we follow Jesus when we listen to the words which come out of our mouths and the thoughts which circulate in our minds, especially when we are tested with tribulation. Jesus met every trial with steadfast patience, self-sacrificing love, and complete submission to the will of his Father. As we listen to ourselves when we are in tribulation, do we hear ourselves following him in this way? Or do we rather hear ourselves getting angry, blaming or criticizing others, becoming frustrated with God, and demanding that things work according to our will?
Jesus tells us, “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” So if we find ourselves complaining, growing bitter and angry, and insisting on our own way, then we can know that we are still harboring in our hearts some “store of evil.” If our hearts are full of self-centeredness, pride, striving for honor and glory, and desire for our own comfort, then we can hardly guide others in the way of Christ.
We are not without hope, however. Jesus says that “when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.” What we need is training in the way of Christ, so that we can become like him. For this, we need to beg God’s grace. As Paul tells us, we gain the victory over sin and death “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is his work in us to make us like himself. We could never do it by our own efforts, no matter how hard we tried. But we do need to humble ourselves to ask him for this grace of transformation, and open ourselves to his work.
One way that we make ourselves receptive to God’s work in us is by giving thanks, by turning our hearts and our voices again and again to thanking God for his goodness. It is hard for resentment and anger to take root in a grateful heart. This is why the Psalm says, “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.” “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praise to your name, Most High, to proclaim your kindness at dawn and your faithfulness throughout the night.” This is something we can work at, praising the Lord and thanking him throughout the day, from dawn until nighttime. This is good training for taking on the mind and heart of Christ.
On Wednesday we begin the great season of Lent, a grace-filled time for us to allow God to show us the evil which still resides in our hearts, to repent of it, and to beg for his mercy and healing. Lent is a special season in which we are trained to be more like our Teacher. The more the Lord removes the beams from our eyes so that we follow his way, the more we will be able to shine like lights in the world, so that others can learn the way to Jesus. Let us then eagerly prepare ourselves for the approaching season of mercy by fostering a greater spirit of gratitude.
What are the large wooden beams in my eyes that hinder me from guiding others? Do the thoughts in my mind or the words I utter express that I am a disciple of Jesus? What “store of evil” am I harboring in my heart?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.