Yesterday was my 11th anniversary of ordination. Mostly the day passes without a lot of thought. When I do think about it, I realize how curious this whole business of being called to something by God is. Being a practical, grounded, rational person, I don’t tend to talk about it in very spiritual terms. But I do believe that somehow in all of it the Holy Spirit was involved. Though I wonder often what God saw in me as a person to call me to this job of pastoring. I could have been something else. Pursued some other studies and field. But in my heart I felt that God wanted me to share my gifts and passions this way. As much as it is difficult, it is a privilege. But it is not more than any other person is called to. You have a calling too. Because the truth is that we are all called by God to a purpose beyond ourselves.
The group of Pharisees and Sadducees Jesus encounters in the gospel followed God’s call to the “T”. They were the faithful stewards of the things of God. They knew the law and they followed so that all could see. They performed ritual washing at the right times. They ate only the right foods. They made the right gestures. And they held others accountable to the same level of piety. They seemed like good examples for other people to follow. Except that they neglected to search their hearts to guard against corruption.
Jesus holds them accountable too. He points out the masks they wear. Highlighting for the crowd and the disciples the way they criticize others without looking inward. You see the thing about the masks we wear is that they are covers for the pain underneath. How often do we tell people things are fine when they are not? We answer the question, “How are you doing?” with, “Fine,” “Okay.” But there are times when we say it knowing that the truth is something else entirely. Even the image of perfection is a cover for the fears and inadequacies underneath.
Part of studying to become a pastor is an emphasis on wholeness. We pastors sometimes joke about the wellness wheel. It’s a tool put out by the church to remind us to attend to all aspects of health -- the physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional. We joke. But every one of us knows we have areas of deficiency and struggle. We also know that we cannot serve our calling faithfully if we don’t examine ourselves. If we don’t acknowledge our own need for healing and forgiveness.
In his remarks to the disciples Jesus gives a list of behaviors. Not an exhaustive list. But there are some pretty big ones. What I noticed about these behaviors are that they can all be signs of more pervasive issues. Some of them seem to be the end result of a longer festering under the surface. Actions like fornication and adultery usually don’t just happen, even if it appears that way. When they do happen it is often because of dissatisfaction and needs that hadn’t been met for some time. Other things on the list are behaviors that express themselves when we are not acting out of our healthiest self. If we are content with who we are and what we are doing with our life then we are less likely to be envious and greedy. We don’t seek out dangerous and uncaring interactions with other people. We don’t lie about people and inflate our own egos. When our hearts are in the right place we are content to be who we are and to share what we have with people around us in a nurturing and caring way.
It is important to notice that Jesus doesn’t say that wicked people do these things. He says that wicked actions are within the capacity of the human heart. Everyone is susceptible to behaviors that corrupt. And it is important for us not to neglect attending to our needs.
Pointing out these behaviors is not a means to condemnation. It is a call to healing and wholeness. It’s a reminder of the deep need we have for healing and forgiveness.
Right after this encounter Jesus meets a woman who is not Jewish. So she cannot fulfill the laws the religious leaders thought important to a relationship with God. But she asks for Jesus’ help to heal her daughter. And in the end it is the intentions of her heart. The humility and genuineness with which she approaches Jesus that is the means to the healing.
The trouble Jesus has with religious leaders in his time comes from their inability to see that God was offering a way of forgiveness and reconciliation to all people. In their view they didn’t need it and others didn’t deserve it. But Jesus points out that all of us fall short of perfection. It’s the human condition. Where the religious leaders sought ritual cleanliness, Jesus brought even the ordinary and “unclean” under the umbrella of God’s grace.
We may not feel God’s call on our lives. Even more probable is that we don’t feel like we are worthy of it. Maybe we hear the list of behaviors and realize we have done one or more on several occasions. If we understand our relationship to God as one of legal proscriptions to follow, we might be right -- if we mess up, we are not worthy. But if we understand our relationship to God as one born of deep love and mercy, then we see that God wants what is best for us. And to free us from the corruption of our hearts that comes when we sit in our brokenness instead of living into our freedom in Christ.
We are called to live as Christ did for the sake of the world. Imperfect as we are, God still has a purpose for each of us. Are our hearts in it?