The first reading is Sirach 27:4-7 – “When a sieve is shaken, the refuse appears;
so do a person’s faults when he speaks.
The kiln tests the potter’s vessels;
so the test of a person is in his conversation.
Its fruit discloses the cultivation of a tree;
so a person’s speech discloses the cultivation of his mind.
Do not praise anyone before he speaks,
for this is the way people are tested.”
It is plain to see that this is not just a wise statement but delightful poetry with a thought-provoking message. Like the whole of this long book of Sirach it draws on both the moral ideals of the Bible teaching and on the wisdom and culture of the Greek/Hellenistic world. It is thought to have originally been written in Hebrew but come to the West only through the Greek version of the Bible called the Septuagint (LXX for short). It is for this reason that it is not present in the general Bible but only in the Catholic versions; also it is classified with a diminished reliability and is called deuterocanonical because of this secondary nature. It also goes under the name of Ecclesiasticus.
The second reading is from 1 Cor 15:54-58. “When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.”
This is the penultimate chapter of this letter of Paul and is really the end of his theological message, the last chapter being mostly just practical matters. With Paul’s education in the Scriptures he considers death to be unnatural, seeing it as a punishment for sin – the first sin of Adam and Eve as related in Genesis at the beginning of the Bible. We might today see death rather as the natural completion of life, which only has a regrettable aspect to it because of our weakness in faith in the beauty of the after-life – a weakness to be expected because of sin making us unworthy of the gift of life forever within God. But we do have faith in the real meaning of the after-life.
The gospel is Luke 6:39-45. “ He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”
A powerful message here about being careful not to overlook our own weaknesses and only recognise and even to point out the weakness of others. This is not to say that it is not appropriate and helpful sometimes to offer correction to others, like a parent with a child or one friend with another. But let us never do this imagining ourselves impeccable.