When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear;
so do one's faults when one speaks.
As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace,
so in tribulation is the test of the just.
The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had;
so too does one's speech disclose the bent of one's mind.
Praise no one before he speaks,
for it is then that people are tested.
Brothers and sisters:
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.
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters,
be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord,
knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Jesus told his disciples a parable,
"Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
'Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,'
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother's eye.
"A good tree does not bear rotten fruit,
nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit.
For every tree is known by its own fruit.
For people do not pick figs from thornbushes,
nor do they gather grapes from brambles.
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."
The late George Carlin surprised me during the O. J. Simpson trial by mentioning, “I watch every minute of it.” When challenged about his TV viewing habits, he pointed out, “Why wouldn’t I? I need the material. Besides, people are only themselves when they’re under pressure. And there’s sure been a lot of pressure during that trial.”
I suspect the gospel Jesus would have agreed. Unlike Carlin, he didn’t need the material, but he always insisted that people be their real selves. That’s why, in today’s gospel pericope, he uses the most biting term he ever employs against anyone: hypocrite. Ignoring modern usage, hypocrite’s not a pejorative word. It simply refers to an actress or actor. Nothing necessarily bad about that profession. Recently, for instance, the Academy of Motion Pictures handed out statuettes to the best hypocrites of last year.
But anyone with the least bit of moxie knows there’s almost always a huge difference between actors and the characters they play in their movies. One of my favorite quotes on that topic comes from Rita Hayworth. When asked why she was married five times, she pointed out, “I presume most of my husbands went to bed with Gilda on our wedding night, but the next morning they woke up next to Rita.” They simply supposed she was one of the movie characters she famously portrayed.
Unless we’re up for some acting award, the gospel Jesus always encourages us to be ourselves. It’s a waste of time to be anything else. But how do we cut through the acting that’s part of most of our lives?
Sirach seems to agree with Carlin’s method for uncovering an individual’s real persona: pressure. In his words, unless a sieve is shaken, we’ll never know what’s in it. Only by “testing” can we reach who we actually are.
According to Paul, that testing will not only open up our real personalities, it’ll also bring us real life. Only if we’re willing to endure the deaths which imitating the “works” of Jesus entail, will we eventually achieve the immortality we all desire. It’s the only way we can sluff off those corruptible characteristics which are part of our hypocritical self.
In today’s gospel, Luke has collected and shared a handful of Jesus sayings that pertain to how a non-actor lives his or her faith. Jesus’ most memorable quote compares the minute splinter in our neighbor’s eye with the huge wooden beam in our own. We’re so concerned with focusing on our neighbor’s faults that we completely overlook ours. Convinced we’ll better the world just by ridding it of everyone’s sins but ours, their flaws are the only ones we confront.
Perhaps that’s why the gospel Jesus so frequently refers to the “fruit” we produce. In his mind, it’s a copout just to boast about the evil we’ve avoided and overlook the fact that we haven’t done any positive good. A tree doesn’t take up the orchard’s valuable ground just because it hasn’t contracted any diseases, but because it constantly generates fruit. For Jesus, producing nothing good is just as bad as doing something evil.
If we’re to sluff off our hypocritical personalities and become real people, it’s important how we examine our consciences. According to Jesus’ morality, we don’t first create a list of sins, then check off the ones we’ve committed, supposing the person with the least check marks wins. We’ve learned from Luke’s Sermon on the Plain that his Jesus starts off not with a list of sins, but with a list of good things he wants us to accomplish. He expects us to examine ourselves not on what we’ve avoided, but on what we, the good people he’s created, have actually achieved.