Martin McNamara, MSC

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue:

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Sirach 27:4-7). Do not praise a person before he has spoken.  Sirach, better known in Latin tradition as Ecclesiasticus, was a scribe, a teacher of wisdom. In his work (38:24-39:11) he contrasts the calling of the scribe and his own, with other trades and crafts. The wisdom of the scribe depends on the opportunity of leisure. The scribe, seeking deeper wisdom, travels in foreign lands and learns what is good and evil in the human lot (38:24; 39:4). He would have observed human behaviour and reflected on it among his own Hebrew people as well, and has given those reflections in his work.

            This present passage emphasises the importance of speech as a reflection of a person’s character. In the opening verse 4 a person who speaks is compared to a sieve. When a sieve is shaken the rubbish remains, or is seen, and so are the defects of a person in his speech.  In the second comparison the person who speaks is compared to a kiln, which tests the work of the potter; so is a person tested by his speech. The third comparison compares one who speaks to a tree in an orchard. The quality of a tree is judged by its fruit; so also with a person: his words betray what he feels. The conclusion drawn from these comparisons is that a person should not be praised before he has spoken, since his speech is the test of a person.

            Sirach had earlier (20:5-8) contributed a section on silence and speech: there is a rebuke that is untimely and there is the person who is wise enough to keep silent. Some keep silent and are thought to be wise, while others are detested for being talkative. The wise person keeps silent until the right moment, but a boasting fool misses the right moment. Sirach can even write that a slip on the pavement is better than a slip of the tongue (20:12).

            This reading is chosen to accompany today’s Gospel reading as both speak of a tree and its fruits.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 91[92]). It is good to give you thanks, O Lord.

Second Reading (1 Corinthians 15: 54-58). He has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. In this reading Paul finishes his lengthy exposition on the resurrection of the body with an exclamation of final victory. He has spoken on a number of his statements on the perishable body on earth and the imperishable risen body, when mortal nature has put on immortality. He uses two scriptural texts in his description of this final victory over death. One is Isaiah 25:6-8, in the so-called Apocalypse of Isaiah, which celebrates the future messianic feast with the swallowing up of death for ever. The other is from Hoses 13:14, “O death where is your sting?”, but not quite as Hosea intended it, who is calling on “death” personified to come and punish sinful Israel. Paul comments on this text, as he has done elsewhere, that the sting of death is sin;  it is sin that brings death, as it did for Adam, and sin gets its power from the external Law which declares right and wrong without giving the power of right living. It is all a declaration of the final victory through Christ which calls for thanksgiving to God.

            For Paul this is not just some abstraction. For him it is a basis for hope, calling for perseverance in the Christian struggle, knowing that in the Lord believers cannot be labouring in vain.

The Gospel (Luke 6:39-45). A person’s words flow out of what is in his heart.  The opening sentence of this reading, or parable, could be off-putting if taken alone, by itself: “”Can one blind man guide another? Surely both will fall into a pit”.  Taken in context, however, it most probably refers to Christian teachers not properly instructed in their faith. The next sentence refers to disciples and teachers; the fully trained disciple will always be like his teacher. The texts tell us of the importance attached to proper instruction in the faith for Luke, and Jesus. The passage that follows returns to a point already stressed by Jesus – not to judge others, here stressing judgment without awareness of one’s own failings. The entire passage ends with a point already stressed in the Sermon, and several times elsewhere by Jesus in Luke’s gospel: the importance of purity of heart, for a person’s words – and deeds –  flow out of what fills his heart.

B. Reflection & Dialogue with Questions of the Day:  Purity of heart and discretion in speech. A message for believers, for political rulers and others.

The message of today’s readings is for believers and others in public life.

The message of the Gospel reading  is first  and foremost for Jesus’ disciples. It is to them that the Sermon in Luke’s presentation of it was first directed. Jesus laid great stress on the purity of heart. According to one of the Beattudes in Matthew’s Gospel he said: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God”.

Mark 7:20-23.

            “And he said to them, ‘It is not what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these things come from within, and they defile ail things come from within, and they defile a person’.

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