1 Corinthians 15:54-58
“What you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying!” A few years ago this pithy statement was bandied about as people discussed the need for authenticity and integrity in relationships. Although it may have become trite and hackneyed from overuse, the point remains relevant; it is, in fact, the same point which is made in today’s gospel.
The conclusion of Luke’s version of the great sermon, today’s pericope is comprised of three separate parables that were to function as object lessons for Jesus’ disciples. All three parables are concerned with the principles that should govern the lives of the disciples. No doubt, the sayings as they are here arranged and in their given larger context reflect the situation of the Christian community of the 80s C.E.
Without the earthly Jesus to guide them and without the apostolic eyewitnesses (most, if not all, were dead) to give counsel, new Christians learned the gospel and the meaning of the Christian way of life from those who already walked it. With the light and presence of the Holy Spirit, Christians living together in community were responsible for one another--as teachers, guides and as disciplinarians. Not only by their words were they to witness to one another, but also by their works, behavior, etc. In this particular gospel, it is a matter of the Christian influence disciples should have on one another.
C. Talbert has identified the ABA structure or pattern of this pericope; the “A” texts serve to elucidate the “B” text and vice-versa. For example, the central “B” text (vv. 41-42) underscores the necessity of being self-critical and personally transformed before assuming the task of admonishing and aiding in the transformation of others. The grossly exaggerated image conjured up by the speck and plank metaphor is purposeful. L. Morris has called this a sort of burlesque humor. Imagine someone with a plank hanging out of his/her eye solicitously attempting to remove a speck from another’s eye! Preposterous! But, as Morris observes, the humor of the image should not blind us to the seriousness of the lesson, whose point is: >Any attempt to improve others or to correct others without a prior self-critique is absurd!
“Hypocrite,” the name given in v. 42 for those who attempt to reform others without any self-involvement, is a term that has undergone quite an evolution. Initially, the word meant “one who answers.” In classical Greek, hypocrite came to mean “interpreter,” “expounder,” “orator,” and was also used to describe actors on a stage. From this latter application, it came to connote a pretender or a dissembler.
Today, as we know, hypocrite is a derogatory term for those whose actions are not consonant with their words, viz. liars, deceivers. Unfortunately, sometimes, even professed and confessing Christians earn this title for themselves. At this point, it should be noted that while the task of fraternal correction (removing specks, etc.) should not be attempted without prior self-examination, the disciple need not be completely without imperfections before the process can begin.
In the two “A” sections of today’s gospel, viz., vv.39-40 and vv. 43-45, the evangelist has expanded upon the motivation for entering into the process of mutually influencing one another for the good. In the first text (vv. 39-40), the disciples are called upon to be both guides and teachers. In order to lead a blind person, one must be sighted; in order to teach, one must be knowledgeable; otherwise the blind person and the student will be lost. The sight and the knowledge hem specified are the insight that comes through faith and the knowledge that comes from a faith-filled relationship with the Lord. To teach the ways of Jesus, to lead others in his way, the disciple must first embody the lessons. Only then will the process of speck and plank removal be a true witness to Christian charity.
Verses 43-45 represent the third parable and second “A” section. Herein the results of true discipleship and of authentic mutual influence are revealed. The logic of the text is simple. Good trees, like good people, produce good things; decayed trees and corrupt people give forth worthless and evil things. This section of the gospel comes full circle as it recalls the wisdom of Ben Sirach in today’s first reading. Just as a person’s speech (Sirach) reveals his/her mettle, so too do a person’s deeds mirror the heart and mind that prompted them.
1. Better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt (Sirach).
2. Those who do not fear death’s finality can bring joy and hope to this life (1 Corinthians).
3. It is easier to take reproof from a self-professed sinner than from a self-professed saint (Luke).
By Patricia Datchuck Sánchez