Finding ourselves, healing the world

2 September 2018


The scene for this morning’ dramatized reading is Jesus’ arrival with his disciples at the trading port of Gennesaret; and there he meets the very exacting Pharisees, who busy themselves with rituals of washing – rituals intended once, perhaps, to prevent disease (much as we might wash our hands whenever we have a cold) but then, it seems, a sign of separation and inhospitality to foreigners. The markets of Gennesaret were, after all, at the gateway to the Gentile badlands.  They will be Jesus’ next destination; and again he will show forth his acceptance of all God’s people, even those beyond Israel.  And as they busy themselves washing cups, and pots, and kettles, the sick lay all around – reaching out to touch even the hem of Jesus’ garment.

Haven’t the Pharisees got their priorities wrong?  Surely God cares not about the dirt on our hands so much as the mire that clings to our hearts.  Jesus rebukes them in the words of the prophet Isaiah This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 

It is a powerful statement about the importance of interiority in the Christian life.

Yet it is too easy to criticise the Pharisees of old, when we ourselves always risk of falling into hypocrisy, honouring God with our lips when our hearts are far away.  We are always at risk of falling into a religious formalism.

Have we lost touch with the most vital thing – our own hearts?  Have we ceased to respond openly to others, be they the sick or the stranger? Perhaps so, perhaps so.


Christianity does aspire to be a religion of the heart.

You will know that, week by week, we pray the Prayer of Preparation “Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts….”  Then we confess our sins in penitence and faith.  The Church recognises that, before we receive Christ in the scriptures, and in the bread and the wine, we must prepare ourselves.  We must first open our hearts and prepare a dwelling place for God.

Like so much liturgy, we skip over it quickly, never entering into it quite deeply enough.  It remains merely formalistic.  Yet As the Apostle James would say, “rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.”

We neglect our own hearts!

And isn’t this, even, a problem for the mission of the Church?  For our mission must, I believe, begin with spirituality.  It must begin with a heart-changing encounter.  Metanoia (repentance) means, after all, heart-change!  So: how can we perceive this Word which is within us, like a seed in deep soil?  How can our hearts become soft again?  Isn’t this the true beginning of discipleship?

Last Thursday we began our Night Prayer and Meditation—something which I think could become one pathway into the life of the Church; and for us who are already here, it can be a way of deepening our response to Christ.  Our Christian lives are surely lives of constant conversion of heart, since most of us have not reached sainthood.

Meditation is one way to prepare ourselves.

And more than this – how can we examine ourselves, discerning God’s address to us through our whole lives?  Who are we?  What gifts has God has given each of us?

Feeling our way into receptivity to God is, I believe, the beginnings of discipleship; and this is surely the way we must invite others to travel, too.


Christianity, the religion of the heart.

Yet, the Apostle James offers us more counsel: do not become self-absorbed.  He says: “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphan and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Contemplation flows out in action.  But what action?  We do not go into the world, like the Pharisees of this morning’s gospel reading, who are so critical and careful and antiseptic.  That has given religion a bad name, then as now.  The point is to serve humanity—to put our gifts at the service of humanity, however that may be.

The point is to get our hands dirty–and not, indeed, to keep them clean.  The gifts we have been given are not for ourselves alone; they have a social meaning.

Christianity, we might say, means finding ourselves, healing the world.  That is how we shall draw near to the Christ of our hearts.  That is, I believe, what this New Covenant is all about.

In a time of acute anxiety about the future of the Church, perhaps God is challenging us to rediscover Christianity itself.  The old formalism won’t do: ours is a way of the heart.

Finding ourselves, healing the world – an exciting proclamation.

May we be alert to new ways of living and telling this gospel in our time.