Christ is interested in our hearts every day of our life
A reflection on the readings for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), Isaiah 66:18–21; Psalm 117: 1, 2; Hebrews 12:5–7, 11–13; and St Luke 13:22–30
Many Jews at the time of Jesus thought that salvation was based on external factors, like race and ritual. Many Jews, in fact, believed that only Jews could actually live in communion with God. The non-Jewish peoples, so they thought, were destined to be second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Others believed that you not only needed to be of the Jewish race to win God’s favour, but you also had to follow even the most minute details of the Law of Moses, as well as the many ritual practices that had grown up around that Law.
Jesus takes the opportunity of the question about whether or not many people will be saved, to correct those wrong ideas. He explains that in God’s Kingdom there will be people from all four corners of the earth—just as Isaiah had prophesied, and as we read in the First Reading. So race had nothing to do with it. He also explains that many who `ate and drank’ with the Lord—in other words, many who followed all the many external rituals that governed Jewish eating and drinking at the time—will be excluded from God’s Kingdom. So exterior rituals aren’t the ticket either.
But if race and ritual are not the keys to salvation, what is?
It’s the heart.
Salvation does not depend primarily on external appearances, but on friendship with Christ, and that is rooted in our hearts. The people in His parable who were excluded from the heavenly banquet complained that the Lord had actually taught in their streets. But the Lord answers them, `I do not know where you are from.’ In other words, they are strangers to Him. Maybe they did let Him into their streets, but they never let Him into their hearts.
Heart to heart
St Margaret Mary Alacoque was a French nun who lived in the 1600s. She was privileged by God with a series of visions in which Jesus appeared to her and revealed His Sacred Heart. He explained to her that his love for sinners was so great that whenever they ignored it or didn’t accept it, he felt as much pain as if someone were driving a thorn into his physical heart.
The Sacred Heart devotion that we see around us, and have heard about, traces its beginnings to those apparitions.
During one of them, St Mary asked our Lord a curious question. She asked Him to tell her who among his followers in the world at that moment was giving His heart the greatest joy. His answer was even more curious than the question. He did not mention any of the famous preachers, or bishops, or even the pope. He did not mention any of the great intellectuals, or aristocrats, or missionaries. He did not even mention someone who was later canonised. No, He told her that the person giving His heart the most joy was a little-known novice instructor in a small convent in the European countryside—someone who was instructing novices how to become good followers of Christ.
What matters to Christ is not drama and fireworks and great achievements; what matters to Christ is the humility and love that are in our hearts.
St Teresa of Calcutta once said, `If you try, you will find it impossible to do one great thing. You can only do many small things with great love.’
Following Christ is a matter of the heart: His heart reaching out to ours and hoping for a warm welcome.
Understanding that Christ looks first of all at our hearts can help us follow one of the most difficult commands that Jesus gave us.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commanded His disciples: `Do not judge, and you will not be judged.’
It is not for us to pass judgment on our neighbours, because we cannot see into their hearts.
Only God can see the human heart through and through. Only God knows all of the experiences that have gone into the formation of someone’s personality. Only God knows all the hidden motives, the real reasons, and the mixed intentions behind human behaviour. Psychologists and sociologists have been trying to catalogue those things for the last hundred years, and they have only drawn one firm conclusion: the human heart is an unfathomable mystery.
Every one of us wants to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. He wants the same thing—that is why he created us. To follow Christ faithfully means to walk in his footsteps. And even to the very end of His life, Jesus refused to pass judgment on sinners. He warned, he instructed, he encouraged, and he exhorted, but even when His hypocritical, self-centred, arrogant enemies nailed Him to a Cross—even then, He prayed. `Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’ How much more should we, who cannot see those depths, do the same!
This week, when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we will promise to forgive our neighbours just as we want God to forgive us. When we do that, let us really mean it.