Sunday, June 28, 2009

Change your minds

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

- Matthew 21:23-32

A lesson here on hypocrisy and truth. What's more real, the thing we preach or the thing we do? The thing we say or the thing we believe? We've all heard the expression, "Actions speak louder than words." What's in your heart is who you are, seems to be a theme repeated in Christ's teachings.

We can't often help what's in our hearts. Perhaps we're angry, we've been rejected, or abused, or subject to injustice. Perhaps we're proud (as opposed to a sense of self-respect) or arrogant in some way. Every possibility is there. But we can choose how we will go through things and approach them, and we can choose to find, deep within ourselves, a relationship to that which will help us along the road to healing and correction. We're not slaves to our past choices or our emotional states. When Jesus speaks here of repentance - of the salvation of the "tax-collectors and prostitutes," he's speaking of the heart's ability to respond to truth. There is an inward part of our hearts, deeper and truer than the things that may stand in the way, that we can open up to, that responds to truth and wants it. The depth of the heart can respond to truth and love even if we've been hurt or harmed in our lives, even if all the emotions there rile us up, confuse us, and we're plagued with frustration. We're still endowed with something that allows us to find a better way. This is a sense of the heart, or the deepest part of ourselves, in spiritual language. It's the place we seek God, to know something beyond "the world" that may present us with a harsh view indeed of life.

In this passage, Jesus is accused of breaking the law for having chastised the tradesmen in the temple. He's also asked by what authority he's done so, since he's not officially a Levitical priest and doesn't have the training normally required to be a rabbi. But, instead of giving in to this accusation and its set-up to put him on the defensive, Jesus responds with a few charges of his own. What's in the heart of his accusers, however, isn't sincere seeking here. It's a way to bring charges against him because his power with the people is growing too strong, and because this faith of the people he's preached to is a threat to the way that things are done. These motives have to do with envy and competition. So, when Jesus asks about John the Baptist, they can't answer, because they fear the will of the people. And then Jesus goes further, and speaks about sincerity, the embrace of the truth, and the always-open power of repentance - this capacity to "change our minds" and to seek with that deeper sense of self that which we respond to that gives us peace, a reconciliation to something we know is true, and that asks us to clear out the things, the obstacles, that stand in its way in us.

In Luke Chapter 6, Jesus is quoted as saying, "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." So, we could ask, what's your treasure? In the Eastern Christian spiritual tradition, there is what is known as "the mind in the heart." In spiritual or religious terms, "the mind" is a faculty capable of apprehending God, or rather God's wisdom - something with which we are endowed that enables us to understand more than what's around us and what our experiences are, but also to have insight, a faculty for wisdom and not just information, to understand a relationship with God. "The heart" in spiritual terms is that deepest part of ourselves, the place where we dwell as a child of the Creator before all else. As Bishop Kallistos Ware has put it, this is the place that denotes us as a "spiritual subject." "The mind in the heart" allows us to recall that which might just change our minds, produce repentance, see a better way to live or to look at life, differently from what we've always done or thought. It allows us to go beyond our assumptions, our emotions, our threatened feelings. This acceptance and integration of "the mind in the heart" is a lifetime process, a day by day kind of going forward in this sense of repentance - in Greek metanoia or "change of mind." May you make the most of the gift, and recall, in Jesus' words, that we all stand as equals before this reality that gives us the gift of this truth, and seek it for yourself in the depth of the heart.

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