Sunday, August 30, 2015

God’s Garden: The Heart

By Colleen O’Sullivan

(Moses said:) “Observe (the commandments of the Lord, your God) carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’  For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?”  (Deuteronomy 4:6-7)

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.  Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (James 1:21b-22, 27)

(Jesus said to the Pharisees:)  “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.  You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” (Mark 7:6-8)

I will plant my law within them, and write it upon their hearts.  (Jeremiah 31:33b)

In our first Scripture reading, Moses tells the Israelites that the law is such a wonderful gift from God that other nations will envy them for having a God who is so close to them. 

As we move along to the time of the prophet Jeremiah, we hear God’s promise to inscribe the law upon our very hearts. 

In the second reading today, James reminds us that everything good comes from God, including the word that has been planted in our hearts.  He admonishes us not merely to listen to the word within us but to be doers of that word.  A pure expression of that word is to care for the most helpless among us (the widows and orphans in his day) and to refrain from allowing the world to color our lives.

Mark, in his Gospel, relates another confrontation with the Pharisees, this time over the disciples’ not performing the ritual washing of their hands before eating.  By Jesus’ day there was a ritual for purifying almost anything you could think of.  In response, Jesus quotes Isaiah and tells the Pharisees that while they pay lip service to God, their hearts are distant.  Much of what they call the law comes from human beings rather than God, yet the Pharisees accord it all the same importance.

As I pondered these Scripture readings, I kept thinking about how everything spiritually important happens in our hearts.  It’s almost as if our hearts are God’s garden.  The law is inscribed there.  The word of the Lord has been planted and seeks to bloom and grow.  Because of original sin, there are also always seeds of sin waiting to sprout – the evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly Jesus mentions to the Pharisees at the close of today’s Gospel verses.

Our job is to tend the garden within us, to make sure that the Word flourishes, flowers and fills the space within our hearts with Truth, beauty, goodness, compassion, and generosity.  We have to constantly water it, nourish it, and keep it weeded.  When our gardens are then overflowing with blossoms, we are asked to share that abundance with those living at the margins of society in our world. 

In order to cultivate this sort of garden, we need to be close to the Master Gardener.  We can read and study God’s word in the Scriptures.  We can become close friends with God through prayer.  Studying Scripture and becoming familiar with the Word made flesh help the good things in our garden to grow.  If we don’t do this, there are always all those other seeds just waiting to germinate, sprout and take over like kudzu.

Take a few minutes today to visualize the garden that is your heart.  Do you picture what God has placed within your heart as flowers, shrubs, fruit trees, or something else?  How do you think your garden looks?  Is it filled to overflowing with good things or have some of those other seeds taken hold?  However it looks, what do you need to do to take good care of it?

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