Lectionary: Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26
Admit it, we find it too easy to look down on others with our own level of disdain. Even Christians find it tempting to categorize people into upper and lower castes financially, intellectually, politically, spiritually. But let’s be honest, we also judge ourselves and we can be very amateurish at how we do that too, both positively and negatively.
To judge while ignoring our own misperceptions and tricks is to fall into Jesus’ criticism of looking for sawdust while ignoring logs (see Matt 7:3).
It matters how we manage both our inward and outward facing thoughts. Our perceptions and ruminations are seated in our invisible hearts and minds and affect who we are and who we become. The verses below tell us that the heart and mind can be deceitful; our best ally or our most convincing enemy.
In the first two readings in Jeremiah and Psalm 1 there is common wording that describes someone who trusts in God as being like a tree planted beside water – a heart and mind deeply rooted, healthy and fruitful.
This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.” (NIV)
The readings today remind us in different ways that there are two types of ‘blessed’. One is material, self-measured and temporary while the other is deep, divinely-measured and lasting.
Bertrand Russell left the Christian faith at a young age for most of the usual reasons and was one of the most outspoken atheists of the twentieth century. However, later in his life he found himself struggling during the severe illness of a friend. He wrote honestly about his thoughts at that time:
“Suddenly the ground seemed to give away beneath me, and I found myself in quite another region. Within five minutes I went through some such reflections as the following: the loneliness of the human soul is unendurable; nothing can penetrate it except the highest intensity of the sort of love that religious teachers have preached; whatever does not spring from this motive is harmful, or at best useless.”
It seems as though, when left to a moment of uncensored thought, Russell’s mind was able to see the circumstances of life more objectively.
Be careful – we can convince ourselves of the rightness of just about anything we choose. We can allow voices into our lives that are dangerous – poisonous friends, poisonous leadership, poisonous thoughts – but ultimately we only respond to the voices that we give time to.
How we direct our minds is important in all these passages. Words like ‘trust’, ‘heart’, delight’ directly reference our deep places that produce outcomes like ‘happy’, ‘fruitful’ and ‘blessed’. Our minds are the seat of all of this and how we think about God is what separates the wasted life from the blessed life.
Each of these passages tells us either directly or indirectly that trust in God is central to being healthy. That’s what faith is.
Just to be clear, biblical faith isn’t believing really, really, really hard that God will do something for us. Biblical faith is trusting in the character and intentions of God and accepting that his way is best. Like one verse in the above reading says, ‘…blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.’
Where is your mind? How do you feed it?
Is your heart dangerous in some way? Is it lying to you or blessing you?
Where is your trust? In the One who is the beginning and ending? Or somewhere else that is paper thin?
O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness,
give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength.
Help us to have perfect trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power,
so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to You,
we shall see Your hand, Your purpose, Your will through all things. Amen.
– Ignatius of Loyola