Life always places before us a whole panorama of choices. We sometimes make the right choices, for all the wrong reasons and can also make the wrong choices for what seemed to us to be the very best of reasons! In 1941 the author Graham Greene wrote a book titled “The Heart of the Matter.” It tells the story of Scobie, a flawed, yet religious man, haunted by his choices and who wrestles with how his own actions touch upon the happiness of others.
He loses his son and is overcome with grief. He embarks on an affair with another woman after his wife Louise moves away. In the end he takes his own life. One suspects his suicide is because he feels that the world would be a happier place without him. At the end of the novel Scobie's priest, Father Rank, says of him, “It may seem an odd thing to say—when a man’s as wrong as he was—but I think, from what I saw of him, that he really loved God.” His spurned wife Louise replies: “He certainly loved no one else.”
It's the kind of novel that raises many questions about faith and life and human failings. Ultimately it leaves you to make your own conclusions. When I read it I couldn't help but think of the relationship Jesus had with the Pharisees of His day. Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we were thinking about persevering in our faith journeys. (Our sermon “Winner or Quitter?) can be found here.
Our bible passages for this coming Sunday (Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23) talk about a confrontation Jesus has with the Pharisees that begins with a conversation about hand washing. The Pharisees suggest to Jesus and His disciples they were not doing things the right way.
It seems they were the sorts of folk who really wanted to do the right thing. But somehow, by focusing on rules and regulations, they lost sight of the most important law of all, the rule of love. They picked on the outward details of a persons life, like hand washing rituals, but ignored the pressing needs of folk around them who really needed help, including their own families. Their quest for righteousness had actually led them away from God, rather than to know God.
Their religion had subtly allowed self interest to overcome their concern for others. Maybe of them it could also be said that, though they appeared to love God, they “Certainly loved no one else.” Jesus, teaching the crowds who thronged around Him, tells them; “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” It is these evil intentions, all of them in some way related to self gratification, rather than another persons good, that defile a persons life.
Righteousness, it seems isn't just about doing the right thing, it's about being in a right relationship with both God and neighbor. When asked to sum up the law of God Jesus clearly stated that the two foundational commands were to “Love God” and “To love our neighbor.”
We are all flawed individuals. We all seek acceptance and love but fall prey to compromise and messing things up! Jesus offers us a wonderful sense of balance in suggesting that loving God and each other should always be held together.
For some music... a song called “Purify my Heart,”written by Eugene Greco.
The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.