St. Michael Vanquishing Satan. Raphael, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.
[Jesus said] “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.
Life is full of opposites. Night and day, death and life, black and white, bad and good, bitter and sweet, sound and silence, north and south; the list is endless, yet somehow we manage to navigate through them because we have to. Sometimes it becomes incomprehensible. Spouses, for example, are almost always the opposite of each other: tidy/untidy, noisy/silent and so on. Ask one how the other learns anything new at all, and almost certainly that one will confess bewilderment. Siblings are almost always in the same situation, very different from each other. Life, then, seems to love opposites! It keeps us on our toes. What would politics be without completely divergent opinions? Now look at today’s Mass readings. The first concentrates on various examples of what is positive (grains, pottery, fruit, speech) to what is not (husks, weakness, barrenness, negativity). The second reading talks of death/life, mortal/immortal, and the gospel speaks of the need to recognize the difference between them. Jesus speaks of the individual criticizing another about a fault when that individual has a magnified version of the same fault! He is challenging us to a self-awareness and honesty which might be very difficult to achieve. If I am the fellow unable to judge because of my own prejudice (the “beam in my eye”), how on earth can I come to an awareness of the fault and remedy it? If I am guilty of possessing what today’s gospel calls a “store of evil” which produces evil all around me, how can I be saved? How can I even come to a realization that I am in such a desperate state? Jesus even suggests how we could have got into such a state, as we might have been brought up in that way with his observation that “every disciple will be like his teacher”. Today Jesus presents us with an enormous challenge.
A few Sundays ago we had Jesus “fishing” St. Peter as a disciple, to make him a fisher of disciples for the Lord. Peter’s reaction to the humility, power and simple goodness of the Lord was to fall to his knees and say “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). That suggests to me that Peter, confronted with goodness, acknowledged his own bad state of mind. Jesus, however, did not leave him, as he saw an innate goodness in Peter (which I believe God sees in every single one of us). I think that that is the clue to our own behavior. When we see how another lives a life of genuine goodness, generosity, love, then we are challenged to do likewise. If another sees us doing such, then we might be mirroring the Lord and inviting that person to look deep inside and see that change for the better is called for. It is an awareness, then, that there is a possible better life calling, light breaking the darkness, warmth overcoming cold, friendship conquering enmity. In short, it is the enormous power of setting a good example.
So it seems that today’s challenge is to take a light into our own lives, and seek anything there that should not be there and root it out. To see in others their goodness as a challenge to any lack of goodness in ourselves. To be as good as we can be so as to suggest to others that life can be joyous and fulfilling. In other words to be St. Michael challenging evil both in ourselves and in others. How about that for a Sunday challenge?
Christ’s Charge to Peter, Raphael, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK.