10 Mar A Right Heart Evokes Right Actions
Friends, I need to make a confession. The Beatitudes are kicking my butt. There, I’ve said it.
I knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. Jesus has this irritating, nasty habit of ripping to shreds all the masks I so carefully construct, exposing what’s really underneath. He calls me to poverty of spirit. Oops. There goes the pride I have amassed based on what I can accomplish or how “successful” I appear. He calls me to purity of heart. Busted. That impatience I feel over being inconvenienced, that annoyance I feel having to deal with someone who just doesn’t get it, that worry that consumes me—none of that passes the “purity of heart” test. He calls me to be merciful. Aargh. Well, sure—I’m happy to be merciful to my friends and family who “deserve” it. But, asking me to bear the burden of another’s hurtful words or actions, to absorb that pain myself rather than either retaliating or passing the pain along—wow, that’s a tall order.
It’s a fair question to ask whether Jesus really believed we could do what he is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Aren’t the Beatitudes just a lovely, poetic ideal that we might aspire to but really have no hope of pulling off? Well, to hear some folks tell it, that’s exactly what it is. But I’m not so sure. Jesus, it seems to me, didn’t spend much time with his heads in the clouds. He didn’t retreat from the messiness of the world. He chose to spend his time with people who were from the “wrong side of the tracks,” who were more concerned with how to put dinner on the table than engaging in philosophical discussions about the state of the world. This wasn’t a “pie in the sky” crowd he was talking to when he delivered his most famous sermon.
Having said that, I do think we get it partly right when we think, “there’s no way I can live up to this.” On our own, we certainly can’t. And, if we remain unchanged, we can’t. The only way I can do what the Beatitudes describe is to become what the Beatitudes describe. Jesus is always less concerned with our actions than he is with what is in our hearts. He knows that if the heart is right, right actions will follow. So, he zeroes in on deconstructing all the things we hide behind, so that we can see and acknowledge the truth about ourselves. When we’re willing to start there, God is fully able to grow us into Beatitude people. It doesn’t happen overnight, and I can attest from personal experience that it doesn’t happen in a straight line. Sometimes it feels like two steps forward and three steps back. But, we really don’t need to worry about the outcome. That part belongs to God. Our part is to yield, to willingly cooperate with God as the Spirit works in us, transforming us into people whose hearts are full of humility and mercy and who desire to live authentic, pure lives.
It is such a gift that God is patient and long-suffering. I need it. I need God. I can’t do this on my own, but God is still at work in me. And, since God hasn’t given up on me, I don’t think I’ll give up on me, either.
Yours for the Kingdom,