Gospel reflection for Feb. 27, 2022, eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Our Lenten journey begins this coming week as we celebrate Ash Wednesday. This most important of liturgical seasons reminds us to put aside our sinfulness and to seek reconciliation with God and our neighbor.

We have been listening to the challenges that Jesus puts forth to his disciples in the Sermon on the Plain. This section of Luke’s Gospel is a good preparation for Lent as it draws our focus to our ongoing need to transform our lives around the Gospel.

Jesus first reminds us of the need for humility in faith. This is extremely difficult to accomplish, and one that in a sense grates against our democratic and equalizing ideals. Jesus reminds us of the preeminence of the teachers of the faith. As we listen carefully to the wisdom and teaching of the Church, our Holy Father, and our Bishop, we grow in faith, but we also grow in humility. We are all disciples on the road to salvation. While we all have opinions on every topic of the day, it is easy to forget that we must first absorb the teaching of the church and allow the tradition to grow and be formed under the guidance of the church. We walk together in faith, but it is so easy to become a church unto ourselves.

Jesus then continues with a reminder to be careful in our judgments against one another. While on one hand this can be moral judgment about someone’s character, in the context of his sermon, this would also mean patience with the immature in faith who do not grasp yet the fullness of the tradition. This would also mean that we need to continue to grow in faith. The Church has never been static though there have been periods of stagnation. We are dynamic and advancing ever so slowly toward the Kingdom of God. As such the Church continues to discern and to teach. We while judging those whose life of faith is different than ours, risk not only alienating them, but also may impede the action of the Holy Spirit in the church. A Christian community is called to advance in love and mercy, not in judgment and condemnation.

Jesus calls out hypocrites – those who are pretenders – and are quick to call out the weakness and sinfulness of others. Most of us do not think of ourselves as hypocrites, yet we are good at pointing it out in others. The propensity to hypocrisy is endemic to the sinful human condition. Yet, we must always be wary of harshness and of rashness in our comments about the life of faith of another. We never know the struggles, challenges, and spiritual maturity of another. It is very easy to make presumptions about others, and to accuse them of being hypocrites when in fact we have no real idea. In our internet driven age, where all comments are equal and conspiracies abound, this is so easy to do.

This coming week we begin our Lenten journey. This is the ideal time for critical self- reflection and an honest assessment of our own life of faith, our commitment to the moral life, and the exercise of that faith through works of charity and stewardship. One way we can do this is to look at the fruit of our labors. While in the short term it can be hard to see the good that we do or the harm we inflict through our doing or our negligence, we can begin to see some evidence of such effects as time moves on. It’s not easy to focus on the “wooden beam” in our own eyes. Just as our brain eliminates the obstruction of our own nose from our vision, so our sins prevent us from seeing our sins. This causes us to become self-righteous and often pretentious. In the end, it leads to hubris and false religion.

As we begin Lent, let us commit ourselves to growth in conversion, setting aside the harshness of our own judgments, coming to understand better the life of the Church, as we grow in the exercise of mercy and compassion.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.