Eighth Sunday in ordinary time: Language of the heart
Today’s readings: Ecclesiasticus 27, 5-8; 1 Corinthians 15, 54-58; Luke 6, 39-45.
It can take a very long time to become the persons we are. Very often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. We must endure so much dissolving and shaking of ego before we discover our deep identity. This is what today’s Scripture readings highlight mostly, particularly Ecclesiasticus and St Luke’s gospel.
It is much easier for us to deal with the external world, to talk and discuss endlessly about others and about what is happening out there instead of dealing with our own souls. In his book Let Your Life Speak, author Parker Palmer observes that we like to talk about the outer world as if it were infinitely complex and demanding, but it is a breeze compared to the labyrinth of our inner lives.
The sapiential book of Ecclesiasticus today says in a lapidary manner: “In a shaken sieve the rubbish is left behind, so too the defects of a man appear in his talk”. On a very similar wavelength, the gospel text says: “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own”.
Both these readings caution us to guard what comes out of the heart and to beware what we store in it. “Heart,” writes David Ford in his book The Shape of Living, “is a way of talking about that dimension of our self where memory, feelings, imagination and thinking come together. The heart is like a home for all the concerns of our lives, where our identity is sorted out.”
All this is about the education of the heart. If we were to speak the language of the heart, much of what is said or written would remain unsaid and less pain would be inflicted on each other. Relationships would be less tense and peaceful co-existence would become more feasible if people were cautious enough to abide by what we can today deduce from Luke’s gospel about the ethics of the kingdom or of community building.
For Luke in his gospel, discipleship is a journey of education and growth, and in a community of disciples, the focus remains Jesus Christ; hence all are disciples to some extent, and to some extent teachers, irrespective of ministries and offices or even of positions of power. The more one knows how to be a learner in life, the more one can have the wisdom to teach.
Luke starts with the parable or metaphor of the “blind leading the blind” to emphasise that the discipleship journey puts us all on the same footing. It also highlights who we are meant to be, affirming that “the fully trained disciple will always be like his teacher”. Coupled with what we read from Ecclesiasticus, this is about being authentically human, a theme that features very often in the Wisdom literature of the Bible.
It is a test that touches on a series of very important aspects in discerning who we are and how we are perceived. Indeed, “the test of a man is in his conversation”. It is the ability to speak, and to speak meaningfully and constructively, that discloses our real identity. Or, as Luke puts it, “a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart”.
As the gospel suggests, what at the end of the day mostly counts in our communities is what fills the heart. If we do not exact high standards from ourselves, we are not authorised to exact them from others. If we are not critical of ourselves, we lose credibility in our criticism of others. We are sort of being cautioned on the need to have mind, heart and mouth constantly connected if we want to make sense in our speech, and in particular if we want to speak the truth in charity.
But when there is disconnection within our own selves, then we risk being only big- or loud-mouths, a liability to community spirit. In the context of the imagery of teacher-disciple, Luke is basically suggesting that conversion is a matter of growth and training, and that it is training and education of the heart that build the person to be a tree that bears good fruit.