Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.
That’s quite an inventory and so much more pessimistic than we’d expect from the Teacher who gave us the Beatitudes or the parables of the Good Shepherd and the Prodigal Son.
But don’t we know too well what unpleasant, what vile attitudes, arise from within ourselves? Aren’t most of us enraged by injustices, lying, bigotry and admit how hard it is to forgive certain people for the harm they generate? We’d wish them dead–however politely or indirectly we’d cloak that wish.
There are other people, however, who never enter into themselves so they don’t have to admit the negativity we all find there.
Jesus is not asking us to be crass, crude or cruel; we should get a handle on this negativity and not spill it on everyone. But we must not lie to ourselves, pretending to be above reproach. And do you know what gives us the courage to do that? I’m thinking of something else Jesus said about the human heart: where your treasure is, there also will your heart be (Luke 12:34).
Is Jesus saying I can only have a good heart when I go out of myself and find a good greater than my survival or self-protection, my prestige and contentment?
The ancient Christian tradition of the Prayer of the Heart, invoking the Name of Jesus, teaches something similar. When I begin to pray from the heart, that is, quieting the thoughts of my mind in the center of my being, willing, breathing, I find distraction, turmoil, my sins, certainly, all overshadowing my intent to pray. But clinging to the Name of Jesus, I first discover him right there, in that mess, as the Man of Sorrows, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s songs, bruised and disfigured by my sin. As such, he may even resemble the people I have trouble forgiving. But he is still Jesus.
If I don’t flinch, if I stay with him, if there, in my need, accept his mercy and forgiveness, a hidden, dark light eventually transforms him into the luminous beauty of the Risen Lord.
Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.