“Why do you observe the splinter n your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own” (Luke 6: 41)
The Social Media or Social Networks could arguably be described as a very precious but delicate discovery of our Modern Age. It has served as a veritable tool for dissemination and sharing of data and information; it has enhanced human relationships and has in fact made the world a much smaller, if not closer space. This we fondly capture with the millennial coinage a “global village.” But one thing that is very intriguing and disturbing about the Social Media and Social Networks is its almost addictive capacity to manipulate, distract and reveal the personality of its users. Apart from nurturing the culture of “Selfism” (an obsession about oneself as the best among others, the crave for attention towards the self, and craze for self-exoneration and the desire to set oneself as the standard for others), there is also a huge outburst of intolerance; presumption and condemnation of peoples, opinions and affiliations with abusive and inconsiderate languages. Rohan Silva writing in Evening Standard (Thursday, 28 February, 2019) quotes Stephen Fry, who found himself barraged with vicious social media attacks for making a joke about his friend thus: “Let us grieve at what Twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second-guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended – worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know.” The experience of Stephen Fry and his lamentation for what the Twitter, nay Social Media, has become – a sanctuary, where self-righteous sanctimonious individuals present themselves as angels while judging and condemning others with the most inconsiderate measures – is perhaps the cry of Jesus and His solemn teaching to us all in the Gospel of this Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 6: 39-45) when we journey through the last part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plains.
“Can the blind man lead a blind man? Sure they both will fall into the pit!”: Jesus’ parable to His disciples first addresses the issue of leadership with reference to intellectual blindness and spiritual blindness. Since they would be the ones to take on the challenge of expanding His mission to the “ends of the earth”, they would first and foremost need to learn, be knowledgeable and gain deep insight into what it means to follow His ways. The old Latin dictum says: Nemo dat quod non habet (No one gives what he does not have). Secondly, just as the physically blind cannot lead another, so the spiritually blind cannot lead. Having spiritual sight here would mean to grow in self-knowledge, which implies the ability to humbly accept one’s sinfulness, weaknesses and faults. This sense of unworthiness would , at one and the same time, open the leader to seeking God’s mercy and to learning in order to guide others towards salvation with charitable corrections.
“The disciple is not superior to his teacher; the fully trained disciple will always be like his teacher”: The core teaching here follows from the first, namely that of humility. The true disciple must first be humble and patient to be a learner and a student. Whatever he thinks he knows, he must guard against the pride of Socratic Fool, “who knows not and knows not that he knows not.” He must continuously seek to grow in knowledge, only aspiring to be like his master. Jesus is also setting before His listeners the choice of following Him in every way or following the others. For us, Jesus is our teacher and model; our lives as Christians is to be like Him, never thinking to be greater.
“Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own”: The image of a log in the eye is quite humorous but in it Jesus gives a message with deep practical meaning. Here again, the core virtue needed is humility. The humility to turn attention to the self in acknowledgement of one’s weaknesses, faults and sinfulness; seek honest ways to eliminate them before trying to point out the mistakes of others. Jesus is not condemning brotherly correction but He is certainly against self-righteousness that judges and condemns others of their minute mistakes without paying attention to one’s sins. He calls these people “hypocrites” because they present a masked and false version of themselves to others. It is very easy to hate other people’s faults with a passion than to even notice one’s own very grievous sins. Sometimes people cannot hear what we say because what we are speaks out too loudly.
“There is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit”: With these images of the good and rotten trees/good and rotten fruits, Jesus draws our attention to the sublime connection between the heart and the mouth; and the source of virtue and vice. The human heart is the store-house of virtue and/or vice. It would seem as Jesus on this occasion was referring to the sins we commit with our mouths and tongues – our spoken words. The First Reading (Ecclesiasticus 27: 4-7) points to how deeply revealing of our inner temples our spoken words are: “the defects of a man appear in his talk … the test of a man is in his conversation … a man’s words betray what he feels.” Since the tongue is powerful, dangerous and inflammable (St. James 3: 1-12), we should guard the thoughts of our hearts so that out of the fullness of our hearts, our mouths may speak virtue in edifying manner.
In the Sermon on the Plains Jesus offers us the guidelines for detachment, selfless love, discipleship, teaching and witnessing as fundamental requirements for Christian life and living. He presents Himself, not simply as a Teacher, but as The Second Moses that stands on the plains to perfect the Law given to The First Moses on the mountain. The Pharisees and the people will later come to realise, no matter how reluctantly, that He is truly the Messiah. Let our hearts be open to His Words so that our mouths may begin to give thanks and praise to God (Psalm 91: 2), instead of judging and condemning others.