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.
The Lord Jesus Christ reveals the truth of who we are; he has looked deep into our hearts and seen our truth. But how do we hear these words of Jesus this morning? Perhaps as a kind of indictment? Do these words of the Gospel sound like good news to us? Is Jesus trying to stop us short, call us to attention? Is he arrogant and self-righteous? Certainly not. What Jesus offers us is not a smug assessment of our sinful nature but a compassionate understanding of how we get pulled and deceived, a very real look at our tendencies toward sin. His gaze tests our hearts, scrutinizes, but it is always a gaze of love and longing, a gaze of understanding. And if he reminds us of the evil that can take root in us, it is only for one reason, one reason only - because he longs to be merciful to us.
Made like us in all things but sin, Jesus needed no one to tell him about the human heart, for he has taken our heart as his own heart. Can we say that Jesus knows from within his own heart all that tempts us and can drag us away? Does this sound blasphemous? You know what the Letter to the Hebrews says, that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but did not sin - in every way that we are. Imagine the breadth of that statement. Think of all you go through, all you feel, all the ways you are tempted; and imagine Jesus feeling it all with you. It never ceases to astonish. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet apart from sin. Therefore, let us draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Jesus knows, Jesus understands. He shares our flesh and blood and knows well what yanks at our hearts because “he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy” all that threatens to draw us away from God. Jesus speaks to us this morning not from above, but from deep within, very near. If as we believe, Jesus is fully human, fully divine, like us “in every respect” but sin, then he knows well the vagaries of our human hearts. But unlike us, though tempted, his heart was always set on the Father’s will. May he continue to teach his way.
Photograph by Brother Brian.