"Christ Looks to the Heart"
Each of the lessons taught in Sunday's Gospel passage could be expanded into an entire book of its own.
The core of them all, however, is in the heart.
Certainly, our exterior behavior must follow God's will.
This is what Jesus means when he says, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law…” But Jesus is trying to tell us that exterior behavior, that appearances, are not enough.
For a true, faithful citizen of Christ's Kingdom, the attitudes and desires of the heart must also be in harmony with God's plan for our lives.
This is what Jesus means when he says: “I have come… to fulfill…” - to bring the Old Testament Law to its fulfillment.
Friendship with God (which is what Jesus offers) requires a union of hearts.
Christ is explaining the Law from this perspective when he explains the true meaning of sinful anger, lust, and lying.
Remember Thecla? We read about her over the summer as a part of our book study. Every once in a while, God reveals to the world the true power of a heart that is full of his grace and love. Thecla grew up in the first century, a well-educated but pagan young woman who lived in the Greek city of Iconium. She became a Christian when St. Paul and St. Barnabas arrived and began to preach there. She fell in love with Christ through their teaching and witness, was baptized, received Holy Communion, and consecrated her entire life to the Lord. Her pagan parents and fiancée were furious with this decision. They did everything possible to convince her to abandon her Christian faith and her consecration. But she persevered.
Finally, they turned her over to the authorities (Christians were persecuted at the time because they refused to worship the local, pagan false gods).
The governor put her on trial, but she refused to give up her faith.
Even after eight days of prison, she still refused.
They condemned her to death by burning. But when they tied her to the stake in the local arena and lit the fire, the eager crowds were amazed: miraculously, the flames left her entirely unharmed!
And so the frustrated governor sent her to the larger city of Antioch for execution. There she was put into an arena with an un-caged lion.
The lion roared and circled her, baring its teeth, as she knelt in prayer, then lay beside her, licking her feet.
They released three more lions - but the results were the same.
Finally, the authorities gave up and set her free, and she spent the rest of her life in prayer and service, spreading the good news about Jesus Christ and his plan of salvation.
Jesus looks to the heart because he knows that’s what matters: a heart full of his grace can overcome any obstacle, withstand any trial, and conquer any evil.
Every Heart Needs a Check-Up...
Jesus looks to the heart, not just to appearances; he knows our deepest motivations and desires. But do we ourselves really know them?
In the Gospels, the Pharisees thought they were in a very good and healthy relationship with God. But in fact, they were not. They actually ended up rejecting God. They were the major players behind the crucifixion of Jesus.
How can we avoid being like the Pharisees? How can we take a true x-ray of our hearts?
Later in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 15:18), Jesus gives us the secret.
He explains that "But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the person." If we want to know the true condition of our hearts, of our friendship with Christ, all we have to do is reflect seriously on our words and the quality of our conversations.
When we speak, are we usually building others up or tearing them down?
Do we engage in crude and degrading humor? Do we join in gossip sessions and unnecessarily spread criticisms or even lies?
Do we use our words to encourage, enlighten, and edify, or are we constantly nagging, nitpicking, and belittling?
The fuller our hearts are with God and the experience of his love, the more our words will reflect his goodness, his mercy, and his wisdom.
As Jesus will give us his unconditional love for each of us, let's ask God for something. Let's ask him to help us recognize the true state of our hearts.
And, if we see that our hearts are in bad shape, let's exchange them with his, repent and return.
He has already given us everything; surely, he won't hold back his Sacred Heart, if we ask him.