Friday, September 12, 2008

The Untutored Eye

I've been really busy this week, but since I have to preach tonight I thought I'd post the homily.

Gospel
Lk 6:39-42

Jesus told his disciples a parable:
“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”


The Untutored Eye


To help us dwell on this evening’s gospel, I would like to draw upon two competing schools of exegesis: the Cowellian school founded by Simon Cowell and the Abullian school begun by Paula Abdul. While you probably thought their talents were limited to being judges on American Idol, allow me to suggest that each one represents a different style of interpreting the gospel.

The Abdullian school interprets tonight’s famous refrain to “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye” as a call to self-improvement. I think many of us hear the gospel in this way: before you go judging anyone else, you’d better get yourself sorted out. Put your affairs in order before you try to correct anyone else.

We could summarize this with the phrase: “Who are you to judge?”

The proper response, according to this interpretation, is for one to go home and spend a lot of time on self-improvement. Buy some self-help books, tune into Dr. Phil, and with a lot of hard work you’ll make yourself into a good performer of the gospel.

This interpretation goes by another name: Pelagianism, and it was condemned as a heresy at various councils in the fifth and sixth centuries.

The second school, the Cowellian, takes a different approach. Instead of patting you on the head and sending you off to work things out for yourself, this school realizes that you are probably incapable of learning to see rightly if left only to your own devices. So this school takes seriously an oft-overlooked line: “No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.”

On this interpretation, we are called to realize that all of us have untutored eyes. All of us need to submit ourselves to the tutelage of the master, the true light of the world. It is this light we encounter in the First Week of the Exercises and which GC 35 recounts as helping us to discover and to recognize our weaknesses and inconsistencies but also the depth of our desire to serve. This light guides us into the Second Week where we gaze upon Christ our Lord and know ourselves to be sinners, yet called to be companions of Jesus as Ignatius was.

On a more pedestrian level, let me close with an instance of why the second interpretation makes eminent practical sense.

Anyone who attends a Blaqrobes softball game will hear teammates encouraging the batter with calls of, “Good eye! Good eye!” Now every now and again – and our record attests to this – players will fall into a slump. It’d be an awful dereliction of duty for the manager to say, “Ok, you’re not hitting well. Go off and sort it out for yourself and, when you’ve got it, come back and be a star.”

Quite the opposite is the case. The manager, or another experienced player, steps out and takes a good long look at the batter.

“Choke up.” “Step away from the plate.” “Swing earlier.”

This is advice that comes from outside, from the manager, from the teacher. And if this sort of relationship with another player who, at best, bats a .500 average, imagine how much better one would play under the tutelage of one who bats 1.000.

Our invitation tonight it to place our untutored eyes, our untutored selves, at the feet of the master who wants nothing more than to teach us his ways. With eyes made new, we will judge rightly because our familiarity with the things of God gives us discerning hearts. It is these hearts – enkindled with zealous love and the desire to serve – that make us available to be sent into the Lord’s vineyard, for the greater service of the Church and the greater glory of God.



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