‘A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.’ — Luke 6: 45

In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers eternally valid observations about human nature. Human persons have a tendency to pick out the habits or peculiarities in others that they dislike and try to change these things in others. All the while, they are unaware of their own bad habits and quirks that might be equally irritating or even obnoxious to others (Luke 6:39-45). Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?”

The problem that Jesus identifies is two-fold. First, if there is a log in someone’s eye, that person cannot see. How, then, can he possibly claim to spot anything, let alone a speck? The second problem is that someone in such a condition cannot see properly enough to do any type of minor surgery on another person. In trying to do so, he would damage the other person’s eye. All of this is a metaphor, of course, for our (in)ability to properly judge the faults and failings of others. Only once we have put ourselves in order can we begin to point out to others areas they might need to address. Jesus sums this up by saying, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Once that growth in self-aware¬≠ness and humility begins, so does the process of becoming “a good tree.” Consequently, a person’s ability to bear good fruit increases. If, however, a person’s focus is always comparing himself to others, no growth is possible. One may still bear fruit, but it will be nasty fruit. The only comparison that matters is myself today compared to myself yesterday. In other words, compare only how one’s self measures up to one’s own potential for the good. 

Jesus’ words are similar to those in the first reading from Sirach (27:4-7). Sirach is part of the wisdom literature and contains proverbs or pithy counsels about lots of topics. It is human wisdom that has been cultivated for millennia and as such is still pertinent today. The proverbs for today’s readings refer to how one tests a man’s character: by listening to him and by watching how he handles tribulations. Does he bear good fruit or bad fruit? Additionally, if someone would like to be just before God (“just” meaning a person who bears good fruit), intelligible and truthful speech is the measuring rod. For, “…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

St. Paul’s words today are also encouraging and challenging. They come from his first letter to the Corinthian church (1 Cor 15:54-58). St. Paul was a man whose heart was totally dedicated to God. He used his words, in speeches and letters, to teach people about Jesus Christ. He certainly knew his share of hardship, however, and speaks from experience when he says, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” In other words, the good tree is steadfast, immovable, and abounding in the work of the Lord.  By living in that way, we can be assured that our labor will not be useless. We may not see the fruit directly, but we trust that the Lord will cultivate good fruit in us and through us.