Where There’s Smoke & Icebergs

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time


It is in our nature as human beings to be curious. Sometimes the basis of that curiosity is legitimate, so we can understand why things are the way they are. At times we are curious because we have a desire to learn, as in academic curiosity, or we want to satisfy some creative urge within ourselves, as when we check out YouTube videos to learn how to play the ukulele, or decorate our homes for the holidays, or make cheese, or tie a tie, or jump start a car, or train your dragon. I typed “How to …” on Google and that’s what came up. You should try it sometime.

It appears this trait of curiosity is built into our nature. That’s probably the reason why little kids are always asking “Why?” Well that, and because they know they are testing our patience. But when a child has stopped asking why, it might be because they have learned to withhold trust, or they got a chemistry set for Christmas and are busy in the basement plotting the end of civilization as we know it, or they have become teenagers and one of the first rules of being a teenager is to not let on that you don’t know everything. This built-in curiosity is likely also the reason why the Freedom of Information Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966, and the reason why the Scientific Method first came into existence in the 17thcentury, and why the principles of logic were first formalized by ancient Greek philosophers as far back as Aristotle in 3rdcentury BC.

You have probably heard it said “Knowledge is power. Information is power.” With knowledge and information we are able to make decisions to help determine our own destiny, our career, and our future. But with the recent rise in popularity of fake news and the open admission of malicious intent in the fabrication of deliberately false and misleading information, we are justified to be less trusting, less complacent, more discerning, and more willing to question. “Because I said so” may have worked fine in generations past. No longer. Trust is not so easily earned anymore. In fact, when we have suspicions that something is amiss, we need to trust our instincts, re-examine what we perceive as problematic or curiously improbable, and ask questions. If our questions lead to answers and clarity, we can move on. If not, we will keep searching.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, or at least something that’s causing the smoke. It might be an electrical short circuit, or something left in the oven too long, or someone somewhere is vaping or using a tobacco product. Whatever the cause, there’s going to be one. And curiosity will compel us to find out and connect the dots. An initial inkling is like the tip of an iceberg. However large or little of it is jutting above the water line will likely be attached to something way larger and more significant out of view. Maybe our suspicions are proven wrong. But at least we asked the question. It is unfortunate that egos might get bruised along the way, but obtaining the necessary information will be helpful in untangling any present confusion, preventing future mistakes, assisting in potential endeavors, and laying the foundation of trust, or teaching us to steer clear of those we learn are not deserving of our trust.

“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.[1]” That last line has been seared in my brain since high school as a Latin quote. “Ex abundantia enim cordis, os loquitur.” For from the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks. It directs our attention to a similar conclusion from another incident where Jesus and the Pharisees were discussing what makes a person unclean. He points out that it is not what enters the body that makes one unclean—as in the food we eat, but what comes out—as in our words and actions.

The sentiment is reflected in several places in today’s first reading from Sirach. “One’s faults appear when one speaks. In tribulation is the test of the just. One’s speech discloses the bent of one’s mind.[2]” The content and motive of our words and actions are found in our thoughts, attitudes, and deeply-held values. That is why we hold people responsible for their words and actions, and why our courts establish deliberate motive to determine guilt. And that is likely why it frustrates us to no end when the best answer we get is “I don’t know.” We expect reasonable people to know why they say and do what they say and do, and be as able to defend their words and actions. In recent years we have all lamented the alarming rise in deliberate wrongdoing and cover-up in places we never imagined we would find it. But we either live in fear and trembling of the next catastrophe to befall our trust, or we dust ourselves off and choose to be more vigilant and better equipped for the next rude awakening.

The penitential season of Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday. And as convenient as it may be for us to notice and point out other people’s faults and failings, unless we have been deputed by competent authority to do so, our focus should first be owning up to our own faults and failings. People who are resistant to the wisdom and instruction of others, will attack their moral credibility. “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?[3]” Essentially, clean up your own act before you go telling people what to do. Ouch on many levels. “Remove the wooden beam in your own eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.[4]

There is no indication Jesus meant to say those who instruct others should be blameless or without their own faults and struggles. If that were the case, no one would ever be qualified to instruct another in anything. And the only person we could trust would be ourselves. But we all know we are not blameless or without our own faults and struggles, some of us are anyway. Nor does it surprise us that we discover one day that our parents and teachers and pastors were never perfect. Any claim to the contrary is the first sign something is out of whack. But a mark of excellent parents, teachers, and pastors is that they know themselves well enough to admit they are not perfect. And still they are able to rejoice sincerely when their children, their students, and their parishioners surpass them in excellence.

In this Lenten season, any focus for improvement should be on ourselves. “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its fruit.[5]” Arrogant claims of absolute authority and inscrutable truth should raise a red flag. Where there’s smoke, there’s likely to be fire. And the visible part of an iceberg will never give an accurate picture of what is hidden from our view.

Rolo B Castillo © 2019


[1]Luke 6: 45

[2]Sirach 27: 4-6

[3]Luke 6: 41

[4]Luke 6: 42

[5]Luke 6: 43-44