A group of young boys (all below the age of 12) were sitting around a dog on the beach. An older man approached them and asked what they were doing to the dog. The oldest among the boys explained that they were playing a game called “Biggest Liar.” The man asked him to explain how the game works. The boy then explained that each of the boys would tell a lie; the biggest liar would take the dog home at the end of the day. The old man shook his head and said, “This world is turning into something else. When I was your age, I never told a lie; all that came from my mouth was true.” The boy responded to him, “Sir, you may have the dog; you are the winner!”
Today’s Gospel passage is a continuation of the great sermon of Jesus, which Matthew has on the mount, while Luke has on the plain. A key point from last Sunday’s passage is, “Stop judging, and you will not be judged.” Today, we have a follow-up to that, which says, “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.” In other words, there must be self-correction before we correct others.
One of the biggest obstacles we face as human beings striving to grow and develop is pride. Pride makes it difficult for us to admit our faults/mistakes and sometimes makes us blame some innocent and soft targets, who become our scapegoats. The defense mechanism of attributing one’s attitudes, faults, or desires to someone else is called self-projection by psychologists. The first step to a cure is to have the correct diagnosis. As long as we keep tracing the origin of our problems to external forces, we will never get out of such problems. In Africa, we say, “The lamp is very good at exposing everything in its surrounding while hiding those under it.”
Similarly, “The eye can see everything but itself” (thank God for mirror). One of the most challenging jobs of parents is to correct that aspect of themselves that they see in their children. Parents will remain frustrated as long as they continue to shy away from the origin of the problem while blaming their children. The first step to healing is for parents to acknowledge that they were once like their children and then think of the kind of help they wish they got when they were younger.
After the fall of Adam and Eve, none of them was ready to take responsibility. When God asked Adam what he had done, he shifted the blame to God and Eve by saying, “It was the woman you put with me; she gave me the fruit, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12). When God asked Eve, she passed the blame on to the serpent, saying, “The serpent tempted me, and I ate” (Genesis 3: 13). It takes a lot of courage to admit our faults without blaming them on anyone or any circumstances. St. Therese of the Child Jesus said, “When we commit a fault, we must not attribute it to a physical cause, such as illness or the weather, but we must attribute it to our own lack of perfection…Occasions do not make one weak, but they do show what one is.” The first reading notes that adversity reveals the inner disposition of a person. So difficulties do not change people; instead, difficulties reveal the true nature of people. And the Gospel passage sums it up by saying that it is “from the fullness of the heart [that] the mouth speaks.”
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of our most potent weapons against pride, against this chronic disease of shifting the blame to other people or other things. At the confessional, we are both the accused and the accuser, while God is our Judge and our defender. We do not go to the confessional to make excuses for our sins; we go to the confessional to take responsibility for our sins. And so we begin by saying, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was…. I accuse myself of the following sins….” This attitude kills our pride, invites God’s mercy and pardon, and creates room for growth. We have great examples of this in the Bible. After kind David committed adultery with Bathsheba and plotted the death of Uriah, Prophet Nathan came to him to talk to him about his sins. David did not claim that the beauty of Bathsheba seduced him; he did not blame the weather; he took responsibility, and his confession gave birth to Psalm 51 (Have mercy on me, God in your kindness, in your compassion blot out my offense….), and he found favor with God. Peter denied Jesus three times. Without blaming the devil, without blaming Judas Iscariot, he looked inward and wept profusely, and so Jesus gave him a second chance, and he died for Jesus. This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It is a season for our reconciliation with God and with one another. Remember that our healing and reconciliation begin when we acknowledge the source of the problem. Jesus invites us to look inward rather than outward. Summon the courage to return to that friend, spouse, sibling, parent, child, colleague, etc., that quarreled with you. Go to them not to accuse them but to acknowledge where you have gone wrong without making excuses. Let us also return to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to sincerely accuse ourselves of our sins with the resolve to return to them no more. And when we confess our sins, God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. Then God places a big sign by the sea that says, “NO FISHING!”