As a very timely preparation for the approaching holy Season of Lent, the liturgy on this Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time gives us great insight into the relationship between our exterior behavior and our interior life, between what everyone can see and what God sees. What is within us, good or evil, will eventually be manifest in our words and deeds: “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.”
In the Gospel, Jesus points out that when it comes to seeing one another’s interior life, we are often like blind guides. “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?” Obviously, we have to be able to see before we can guide others. But what we tend to see is other people’s minor faults – how easy it is for us to see them! – while we remain blind to our own major faults. Or at least we find it very difficult to see and honestly acknowledge our own faults. Jesus asks us, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” What blinds us is our pride, our need to consider ourselves as better than others. Shame and insecurity also distort our vision. These are ongoing consequences of the original Fall. We are still hiding behind fig leaves, thinking that God does not see us, and pointing the finger of blame at others.
When it comes to seeing our inner life, our speech is a dead give-away: “for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” Sirach describes well how our words reveal what is hidden in our hearts: “one’s speech discloses the bent of one’s mind.” What do we hear when we pause to listen to ourselves? We discover how quick we are to criticize the behavior of others. Only with great restraint do we refrain from sharing our “insights” – that is, gossiping – with a third party. In our efforts to look good, or simply to enhance our own self-esteem, we look for the worst in others. There is a little of the self-righteous Pharisee in all of us. We hear him complaining especially when we are facing trials. He is convinced that he certainly does not deserve to suffer in this way or be treated so badly. God uses times of trial to test and to expose our true character. When we hear ourselves complaining, blaming, judging, boasting, sulking, defending ourselves, then we have evidence of what is going on in our hearts. “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit.”
But for the most part, we are quite blind to all this! How can we see? How can we get the beam out of our own eyes? Today’s Responsorial Psalm gives us a secret: gratitude. “Lord, it is good to give thanks to you.” When we practice the discipline of praise and thanksgiving, whether we feel like it or not, our gaze is lifted from our narrow focus on ourselves. We gain right perspective and begin to see ourselves as the Lord sees us. We repent of our petty complaints and we re-commit ourselves to the Lord who has been faithful throughout our night of trial. Once we begin to ponder things from his viewpoint, our gratitude grows, and we cry out, “I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see!” How good God is to us! Before, we saw only our wounds and our reasons for sorrow; now we realize that “death has been swallowed up in victory.” We have been clothed with immortality; death has lost its sting!
In our daily prayer to Mary our Queen Mother, we beg her, “open the eyes of our hearts with your faith.” Mary knows how to lead us from blindness to sight. She directs us to Jesus who dwells within us; she helps us realize that he sees us, knows us, loves us and awaits us despite our sinfulness. Through the liturgy, the school of the heart, Mary shows us that Jesus is both the truth of salvation and the path to follow. The way of Jesus is love. We do not have to be preoccupied with “fixing” people, taking all the splinters out of the eyes of all our neighbors. When we begin to see others with the eyes of Jesus and love them with his Heart, we become sighted guides. In our broken world, where so many are spiritually blind, our work is to lead them to Jesus for his healing touch. What a great blessing it is for us to be called to share in his saving, healing work.
When do I misjudge others based on their exterior behavior? What are my areas of interior blindness? How can I grow in gratitude each day?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 2. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.