EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2022)
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
It is difficult to read the rather strong words of our first reading and our gospel reading, without reading them in light of the disturbing attacks presently happening in Ukraine. Indeed, the last few years, both in the realm of politics as well as in the global Church, bring to light the truth of Sirach’s 27:7: “Do not praise a man before you hear him reason, for this is the test of men.” In verse 5, Sirach states categorically that the real “test of a man is in his reasoning.” If these nuggets from the Hebrew Scriptures are true, then why are so many people drawn to that which is unreasonable, misleading, and untrue? If Sirach is right when he states that “the expression of a thought discloses the cultivation of a man’s mind,” then why are people willing to follow others whose “thoughts” disclose a mind which is deranged, conspiratorially twisted, and not in touch with reality?
It appears the world is about to be turned upside down on account of the spoken “thoughts” of an autocratic dictator who dreams of dying in charge of a country that looks more like that of the Warsaw Pact of 1955. The Pact, meant to be a counterweight to the recently established NATO, lasted only 36 years. State revolutions, the reunification of East and West Germany, and an overall lack of fondness for Russian behavior, caused states to withdraw from the Pact, some of those states later seeking entry into NATO. Now Putin wishes to bully Ukraine into giving up its dreams of being a thriving democracy, and Putin should be dealt with as a parent deals with those who might bully their children.
Never accused of having a small ego, Putin now wishes to remake the map of Europe, restoring what was ‘rightfully’ his (or the Soviet Union’s), even though the cost of the subjugation of a sovereign nation (the cost of Putin’s dream) will result in the deaths of thousands of innocent people. As if watching the Russian people bow and kowtow to such an evil man wasn’t enough, we are forced to watch people in this very-divided country heap praise on a man whose “thoughts” disclose the lack of a cultivated mind.
I am not a historian, and my point is not to lecture my readers on history. The more important point is to recognize the relevance of the Scriptures we read each and every time we gather for the Eucharist. The Scriptures are timeless, and more importantly, they are inspired. They are capable of speaking to us in our own personal lives, and they are capable of speaking to us in whatever times we happen to be living in. Today we are living in the shadow of a war in Europe, started to replace peace with upset, life with death, and started by the “thoughts” of a man spoken of in our first reading, whose “faults” have clearly been revealed, and whose “fruit” is evident in the lives that will be lost, and in lives that will be completely upended.
As Christians, Jesus has the ultimate say, and we must remember that He was schooled on the Hebrew Scriptures, and His teachings reflect the wisdom to be found in Sirach, and in all of the First Testament. Early in Mark’s gospel, on a Sabbath after He and His disciples walked through a wheat field, and picked off heads of grain to eat, Jesus reminds his listeners that what goes into a man does not make him unclean, but it is what comes out of a man, his words, that make him unclean. As Sirach spoke of the kind of good fruit to be found from a good tree, Jesus, too, reminds us not to look for figs on thorn bushes, or look for grapes on brambles. “A good person,” says Jesus, “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 Scriptures have so much to teach us, not about the past, but how we are to live our lives in the present, measuring people’s thoughts by how they live their lives, that is the real fruit by which a person’s life can be measured. “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its fruit.” Let us be known by the fruit we bear: fruits of goodness, grace, compassion, mercy, and peace.