Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
As we approach the season of Lent, Paul's first letter to the Corinthians gives us a sneak peek of Easter, waiting for us on the other side: "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" Paul's conclusion, telling us to remain steadfast and devoted to the Lord's work, could serve as a Lenten motto. The reading from Sirach provides a series of adages regarding discipline of the tongue, and of our speech. Maybe not a bad Lenten practice to observe. Even Jesus in Luke's Gospel gets into the act, encouraging a cleansing of the heart ("A clean heart create for me, God" we will sing in Psalm 51 during Lent), so that from the goodness of our heart we will bring good into the world. Of course, these insights from Sirach, Paul, and Luke serve us quite well year-round. What we truly do "in the Lord" is never done in vain.
IS THIS ON THE TEST?
Today's reading from Sirach reminds us not to praise others before they speak, "for it is then that people are tested." Jesus, in Luke's Gospel, takes it a step further, reminding us that we are also known by the fruit borne in our lives. It doesn't take long to think of a person or group of people who speak beautiful, praiseworthy words, and yet their lives are unfruitful, or their lives outright contradict their speech. This is the class of people we call "hypocrites," and it's clear in all the Gospels that Jesus has no time for them. Our speech does test us, but the test is really to demonstrate that there is a connection between what we say and how we live. Expressed another way, this is the age-old discussion about faith and works. A truly deep-rooted faith will bear fruit in the works, in the actions of our lives. As happens so often in discipleship, we are dealing with the both/and, not either/or.
As disciples who follow Jesus, we believe that we are following God's very Word-made-Flesh. The theological term for this is In-carn-ation, the "in-flesh-made" second person of the Trinity. As followers of the Word, our words are truly important. Our hearts and mouths are wired together, as Jesus tells us today: "from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks." This is yet another echo of the wisdom of Sirach: "Speech discloses the bent of a person's heart." Eventually, our words--and the other actions of our lives--will convey what is truly in our hearts. Perhaps the ultimate test of our discipleship is not merely our words, or even our actions, but on a deeper level the test is whether or not others will find in us God's word "in-flesh-made." Our mission is to be the Word-made-flesh, in the flesh again in our own place and time.