22nd Sunday of the Year
1 September 2013
We often hear that people today seem to have lost their moral compass. Whole nations seem to be adrift in a morass of competing ideologies. It’s another way of saying that we’re wandering around, reckless and heedless, probably going in circles without knowing it. You know you’re going in circles, by the way, when you make the same mistake three times running. (Yes, I was a Boy Scout.) That could be a point worth considering when planning military intervention in Syria.
Today’s readings intend to point us in the right direction. The book of Jesus ben Sirach is part of the Wisdom tradition, which was developed to provide spiritual and moral guidance for young Jews who were living in Persia, Egypt and other parts of the world outside of Israel. They needed direction, and the name given that was hochmah, wisdom. This particular section focuses on the wisdom of humility, much as Jesus does in the Gospel reading. In both cases, the counsel both Jesuses offer seems counter-intuitive – if you want to advance and succeed, keep your head down. What they are saying is don’t exalt yourself at the expense of others, particularly those less fortunate than yourselves. Don’t force your ideas or plans on others. Treat people with respect, and they will respect and honor you.
Jesus also told us not to put our lamps under baskets, but to let them shine in the truth of our authentic abilities and accomplishments. But here he seems especially concerned with avoiding arrogance, the kind of rudeness that walks on the feelings of others as if they didn’t matter. No one shines brighter because they cast shade on other people. It’s a lesson for nations as well as individuals. Might does not make right, as the President recently repeated. Hopefully, he – and we – will heed that old adage.
So hang on to your compasses. Or if you have lost yours or mislaid it, find it again. Use them to remind you why you’re here as well as where you want to go. And don’t forget your lamps. Ancient mariners used oil lamps and candles to see their compasses when they couldn’t find the stars on cloudy nights. The path of true love and authentic justice needs Light. Jesus, the Light of the World, was pretty clear about that,– “The truth shall make you free,” he said. He called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And he also taught us that the whole Law and all the Prophets could be summed up in a single commandment: “Love one other, as I have loved you.” Love, Humility, Justice and Truth set the quarters of our moral compass rose. Only together can they reveal the way to go and finally see us safely to our destination.