These five simple verses in today’s Gospel create a wonderful opportunity to explore its deeper message. Situated between Jesus teaching on light: “If your whole body is full of light, and no part of it is in darkness, then it will be as full of light as a lamp illuminating you with its brightness” (v. 36), and his “Woe” statements to the Pharisees: “Wow to you Pharisees! You pay tithes of mint and of rue and every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgement and to love for God. These you should have done without overlooking the others” (v. 42); is the context with which to process the teaching.
Interesting that the Pharisee would invite Jesus to dine at his house; we understand that Pharisees observed a strict code of ritual purity and since Jesus was not observing the prescribed washing, he would be ritually unclean. Once again, Jesus is challenging the status quo while allowing the reader of the text to see just who is unclean before God.
If we hear Jesus’ statements as polarizing—either/or—then we miss the essence of the message. Jesus is inviting him, and us, to wholeness; to bring together the love of God with all our heart, our being, our strength and our mind.
Sure, we may be able to see exactly where this Pharisee is blind, but what about me—and you? Where is the log in our own eye? I might compare myself to a Pharisee and come out pretty well in that exercise—but what about comparison to Christ and the way he taught us about true discipleship?
What part of my eye is not sound and therefore obstructs my vision? What are my unexamined assumptions? How well do I follow the second part of the Greatest Commandment—to love my neighbor as myself? Maybe I’ve never plotted to condemn and crucify anyone else but what about the times I judge myself and find that I am unworthy—ritually unclean because of my actions and sin? Unless we can step out before God in our nakedness, we cannot claim our inheritance won for us through the blood of Jesus.
Yes, we sin and will always sin, that is our human condition. Yet, when we fail to look within to see the beauty of God’s indwelling and love ourselves, we are unable to love in wholeness. Then we really are “fools” who pay more attention to the outside—which is always easier and a lot less work!
In the quote below, while visiting a prison in Philadelphia, Pope Francis demonstrates very well what true inner light can look like:
“I am here as a pastor, but above all as a brother, to share your situation and make it my own,” I have come so that we can pray together and offer our God everything that causes us pain, but also everything that gives us hope, so that we can receive from him the power of the resurrection.” Amen!
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.