Sunday, November 8, 2015

our secret thoughts are not secret from God

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we pray that as we meditate upon your Word you will lead us deeper into all truth that we may better know and do your will and grow in holiness day by day. Amen.

The Scribes do not come across well in today's Gospel. Christ tell us to beware those of them who ‘who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.
(Mark 12)

First I think it important to point out what our Lord is not saying. He is not condemning all Scribes, only those who behave in the manner he describes. This is something that is necessary for ourselves to be aware of, particularly when we are tempted to judge an entire category of people on the basis of a few of its members. Next he is not condemning their wearing of long robes – only those who wear them for the wrong reason; in this case to draw attention to themselves and be treated with a respect that they do not deserve. No, what our Lord condemns here is not the wearing of long robes; but rather those who do so for their own glory and not the greater glory of God.

But to say that Christ in this passage is only condemning a small group of people who behave in an inappropriate way is not the same as saying this passage is of no relevance to us today; we, who no longer have Scribes among us, and who live in an age when most certainly to wear the clothing that distinguishes a person as a minister of religion not only does not automatically bring any kind of respect along with it, but is quite likely to attract hostility. But even so, this passage continues to be of great relevance – as do all passages of Sacred Scripture, even if there are times when we are required to consider it deeply in order to understand what it may be … something, I would suggest, that God would wish us to do in any case in our reading of these writings that have been directly inspired by him.

So what lessons are taught to us by what Christ had to say about the Scribes on that day in Jerusalem that day? Well, a very important one would be that the motivations for our actions matter to God. I'm sure that anyone looking at the Scribes walking about that day would have found it difficult to know what it was that motivated them within the secrecy of their hearts. How, after all, can we tell what it is that a man is thinking? On the surface, the man who was a Scribe for the greater glory of God, and the one who was one for the sake of all that it would bring him in this world in terms of position and society and perhaps even personal wealth, both look very much the same.

But God can tell. He can look into the hearts and minds of men; and he will judge them according to those thoughts. And if deeds are done for the sake of worldly glory, even if they are good deeds, then, as Christ says elsewhere, they have already had their reward. And what can it mean to say that they have already had their reward other than they will receive no further reward? In other words, presenting a mask of virtue to the world for the sake of winning the approval of men does not lay up treasure in heaven, and does not win the reward of eternal life.

This then is to us as a warning – that we may reflect deeply on our own behaviour. God does not find pleasing behaviour done for our own satisfaction that we pretend is done out of love for him; he is not fooled, and will not reward it, even if in the eyes of men those actions appear the same as those that are truly done for His glory. And there is a further danger that can arise, the danger of thinking that to satisfy our own desires is the same thing as to please God and give him glory. We only have to look at the way that so many in the world clamour to change Church teaching in so many areas to suit themselves – teaching that is firmly founded on Scripture and has been taught without change in all places from the earliest days. But when we replace the glorification of God our with our own self-satisfaction we cease to worship God and instead worship ourselves; and while self-worship may lead to a very pleasant, if entirely empty, life, it most certainly lead to eternal life and is therefore worthless.

But we may rejoice in the knowledge that not only do we have a God who was willing to suffer and die for our sins, he also became man and dwelt among us that he may teach us with his own divine authority what we must do in order to end in heaven. The way may be narrow; but at least we have been shown the way, and been shown by God himself. I pray that all here will take up their cross and joyfully follow that path, secure in the knowledge that to this path is the one they must take to leave this life and enter into the eternal and blessed light that surrounds our Father in heaven.

To the Almighty and Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to him be all honour and glory, now and unto the ages of ages: Amen. 

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