Sunday, March 3, is the Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass Readings: Sirach 27:4-7; Psalm 92: 2-3, 13-16; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; and Luke 6:39-45.
One of the unique features of Luke’s Gospel is its description of Jesus’ childhood, which centers upon an account of the Holy Family’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 2:41-52). This important episode from the life of Christ, which eventually became a mystery of the Rosary, reveals to us an important detail about Jesus’ humanity that we would do well to meditate on: Jesus learned. Mary and Joseph find Jesus sitting amid teachers in the Temple, asking them questions and listening to them (2:46), and after this episode, Luke explains that Jesus continued to grow in wisdom before God as he grew older (2:52).
It is perhaps an obvious point, but it is worth noting that Jesus did not learn on his own; rather, he learned from his fellow Jewish people and from the Jewish tradition of which he was an heir. By the first century A.D., there had developed in Israel a robust scribal teaching tradition, especially with regard to questions about God and moral human behavior. Jesus both learned from and drew upon this tradition in his own teaching ministry; in order to reveal the fullness of truth to his fellow Jews, Jesus did not start from scratch, but used images, proverbs and parables that were familiar to them. Of course, Jesus often used such traditions creatively and put a different spin on them, but, nonetheless, they formed the foundation of his teaching.
In the readings for today, we see an example of how Christ drew upon Jewish tradition. Jesus was not the first one to liken human actions to the fruit of a tree; nor was he the first to relate this image to human speech. The scribal sage Ben Sira, the author of today’s first reading, who lived in Jerusalem two centuries before Christ, already wrote such things for the instruction of his students. He was heavily concerned with speech ethics because he understood that human speech has real consequences in the world, and if one is not careful of what one says, this can have detrimental effects. He had seen and even personally experienced the baneful effects of lies, gossip, slander and generally foolish speech. Thus, he taught his students to avoid such sinful speech because he saw that it could disrupt lives and negatively impact Jerusalemite society.
Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel today is quite similar to that which is found in Ben Sira’s book of instruction. Jesus builds upon Jewish wisdom traditions when he says that “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; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). With these words, Christ teaches us not only that human speech leads to action, but also that human speech is itself an action. When we use speech poorly — through lies, gossip, mockery, etc. — we produce evil in the world, which is the exact opposite of what we are to do as followers of Christ. Further, Jesus’ words indicate to us that there is something deeply revelatory about the way a person speaks: Good or evil speech reflects an inner disposition of good or evil. The implication for us, as St. Paul succinctly articulates, is that we are to strive to cooperate with Christ’s grace and “speak only the good things that men need to hear; things that will really help them” (Ephesians 4:29). For in doing this, we will produce good instead of evil, and any inner reserve of evil within our hearts will gradually be removed.
Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor
in sacred Scripture at the
Pontifical Faculty of the
Immaculate Conception at the
Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.