Friday, February 19, 2016

40 Days of Rehab for the Heart

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord God.  Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?  (Ezekiel 18:23)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my voice in supplication. For with the Lord is kindness and with him is plenteous redemption; And he will redeem Israel From all their iniquities. (Psalm 130:1-2, 7bc-8)

Jesus said to his disciples:  “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:20)

Cast away from you all the crimes you have committed, says the Lord, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.  (Ezekiel 18:31)

Some days it would be so much easier to be a Pharisee!  Just follow the script, check off the right things and our obligations would be fulfilled.  But Jesus and Lent call us to something more.  Jesus isn’t all that interested in the bright, shiny exteriors we often present to the world.  Jesus goes deeper.  He’s more concerned with the disposition of our hearts.

After reading through the Gospels many times, I have difficulty imagining many Pharisees raising their voices to God in the words of Psalm 130.  Those are the words of someone crying out in humility, God, hear my call.  I know I am a sinner, but I trust that you have the power to forgive me and redeem me from my sins.  No, the Pharisees didn’t, as a general rule, seem to see themselves as sinners in need of repentance.  After all, on the outside they were doing everything right.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says that may be so, but he’s more interested in how we are on the inside, in our hearts.  He uses the commandment You shall not kill as an example.  I remember hearing a homily five or six years ago where the priest talked about someone coming to confession and proclaiming themselves not so bad, because they hadn’t killed anyone.  Commendable to abstain from murder, to be sure, but Jesus takes this a whole lot further.  What about the anger in our hearts?  We may succeed in hiding this from our fellow human beings but never from God.  God knows us to the very core of our beings.

We all experience anger from time to time, but what do we do with it?  Do we yell and scream, say hurtful things, punch holes in walls, maybe hit the next available person?  Do we throw things and act out?  Do we allow our anger to feed on itself, working ourselves up into an uncontrollable rage? 

Maybe, on the other hand, we look calm, cool and collected on the outside while we store our anger on the inside.  There it festers, lovingly caressed each day.  Maybe it just seems like a coolness between you and the other person, but one day down the line you’ll aim a zinger at the object of your anger and they’ll be left wondering where that came from.

We may not literally take the life of another, but Jesus says our anger kills a little bit at a time, so let go of it and give it up.

What dwells in your heart that you are trying to hide from the rest of the world?  Be assured that although you may fool your brothers and sisters, God sees the real you.  Use Lent as a time to trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Echo the words of the psalmist:  Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!

It’s true that with the Lord is kindness and plenteous redemption.  God wants to create in us new hearts and new spirits.  Let God work on your heart during these 40 days.

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