The Divine Teacher instructs with lessons from creation

Shawn Reeves

Living the Word / By Shawn Reeves

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time / Feb. 27

Sirach 27:4-7; Psalm 92:2-3,13-14,15-16; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45

God often teaches us through his creation. Indeed, St. Paul insists that “the invisible attributes of God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly understood and perceived through the things He has made” (Romans 1:20). With gentle concern for our welfare, God endows the world He creates with spiritual lessons and layers of meaning. And when the Son of the Father arrives incarnate, this divine teacher swiftly instructs through the curriculum of creation.

“A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit,” proclaims Jesus in our Gospel reading. “For every tree is known by its own fruit.” In other words, “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had,” as our first reading declares.

Any fruit-bearing plant will produce only the degree that it is nurtured. Give it less than adequate water, and fruit and berries will be hard and misshapen. Give it too much direct sun, and the fruit could get scorched. Give it not enough sun, and it may yield smaller fruit or none at all. Allow the soil to become too acidic or too alkaline, and a tree may prematurely drop the fruit altogether, leaving a carpet of rotting fruit. The fruit tells the story of the care of that tree.

With gentle concern for our welfare, God endows the world He creates with spiritual lessons and layers of meaning. And when the Son of the Father arrives incarnate, this divine teacher swiftly instructs through the curriculum of creation.

Jesus uses this natural phenomenon as instruction on a spiritual one, adding “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.” Jesus couples the analogy of the fruit tree and the analogy of the “storehouse” of the heart. The roots of every plant are its “storehouse,” collecting and preserving nutrients and hydration. Whatever the roots receive or do not receive will largely dictate the destiny of the fruit.

Likewise, the heart is the storehouse of the human person. Store evil there and the rotten fruit of evil will naturally emerge. Store good there and the good fruit will bear witness to the care it has had. The cultivation of the heart dictates our attitudes and behavior. “From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”

WHAT DO WE FEAR?

This is the necessary context to understand Jesus’ admonition, “You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.” Jesus does not attack the accusation that the brother has a splinter in his eye. He acknowledges that the brother in this parable has a true defect that warrants attention and requires remedy. But we cannot effectively guide others to reform if we are resistant to reforming ourselves.

“No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.” If the teacher has cultivated his heart with arrogance and a stubborn lack of introspection, so also will his student be, and both will remain blind. Neither will see the need to improve oneself. “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”

Our first reading uses the imagery of the ancient process of sieving grain. After threshing and winnowing, the grains were shaken in a sieve. Weeds, crushed straw, and chaff that was not separated by threshing and winnowing would rise to the surface and could be plucked from the top of the pile of grain. Just as sieving reveals the imperfections of the harvest that were already there but hidden, so our speech often reveals our less desirable qualities. “When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks.”

Sometimes we act poorly toward others out of raw self-absorption and misguided entitlement. But more often than not, we do so out of fear of loss — loss of things we need, loss of reputation we enjoy, loss of relationships meaningful to us. There can be no doubt that “tribulation is the test of the just.” But “when fully trained” we will be like Jesus in victory. If only we labor on the cultivation of the heart.

SHAWN REEVES is director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign. He and his family attend St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Thomasboro.

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