For a full copy of the Newsletter please click on the link; 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time 030319
I recently passed my 20-year anniversary of joining the New Zealand army as an eighteen year-old. I still vividly remember signing on the dotted line, swearing my allegiance to Queen and country with my hand on a Bible. I also remember what happened next: the lieutenant brought out a copy of the Code of Military Conduct which we were to abide by - it was at least six inches thick!
I remember lamenting the perceived loss of freedom that my compliance demanded. As well as still being subject to civil law, I now had six inches of military law that told me what I wasn’t allowed to do. As I matured, however, I grew to be proud of the fact that I’d signed up to an institution which demanded a higher standard of personal conduct than that of a regular civilian – and doesn’t Christianity do the same? While the world would have us believe that being a Christian means we can’t do this or that, a mature sense of Christianity draws us into a life of true freedom.
Today’s Gospel challenges us on an incredibly personal level: Jesus asks each one of us to examine the plank in our own eye before pointing out the splinter in our neighbour’s eye. In doing so, we are challenged to examine what’s going on inside of us. Do we harbour deep-seated anger or hate? Are we always looking to get ahead of others? Do we focus on the actions of others and avoid reflecting on ourselves?
While it’s sometimes difficult to let our Christianity hold us to account and maintain a sense of freedom, an easy way to take stock of the planks in our lives is to self-examine how we communicate. Both the first reading from Sirach/Ecclesiasticus and the Gospel today teach us that the words or even the tone that comes out of our mouths indicate whether our fruit is rotten or sound. We can also add the question of whether we’re willing to listen to others, where listening is more than simply hearing.
This sense of deep listening is what Pope Francis encourages when he talks about us being a synodal Church. A synodal Church is a Church which cultivates a mutual listening between people in which everyone has something to learn. Therefore, when we focus on the splinters in our neighbours’ eyes but neglect our own capacity for self-reflection and evaluation, we close ourselves to the possibility that we have something to learn from the person before us.
On the other hand, when we encounter people with a deep sense of respect and reverence – despite the apparent splinters in their eyes – we become the synodal Church that Francis is advocating and we become like a standard lifted up among the nations (cf. Is 11:12).
Deacon Joshua Whitehead