Lenten Reflection – March 14, 2013 by William Thornton

jeremiah17_9-10“The heart is more devious than any other thing, perverse too:
who can pierce its secrets?
I, the Lord, search to the heart, …” Jeremiah 17:9-10

It was not modern psychiatry nor TV soap operas that first discovered the complexity of the human heart and its tendency to sink to the lowest level. The prophet Jeremiah knew all about it. He probably did not need divine inspiration to get this point right. He could cetainly look at the people around him and perhaps into his own life. Lately, the Lord has been reminding me that I can be (and have been) as devious and perverse as any one. You will forgive me if I do not go into detail.

The words “devious” and “perverse” are related in thought, if not in derivation. “Devious” comes from the Latin word “via” meaning “way,” as in “I am the way.” “De” means “off” or “away.” I am devious if I am off God’s way or even some expected or “normal” way. Those around me can’t figure out where I am or where I am going or why. “Perverse” is based on the Latin “versus” meaning “against” just as it does in English. The prefix “per-” in this case means “very much,” as in very much against or against for no reason.

So, in one way, the prophet is saying that the heart is the seat of our free will. I do not know what “Original Sin” is. I never understood the whole idea. What I do understand – somewhat – is free will. God gave me my free will so that I can freely choose to love him the way he freely chose to love me. However, I have spent a good deal of my life making a different choice (deviating, if you will) and opposing him (being perverse). That just makes me human, and it makes me like all other humans. If grandparents call kill their young grandchildren, as we have seen in two recent instances, then I am capable of doing the same thing – not that I am planning to do something like that nor is it likely that I would do something like that. But it is something that a human person – like me – could do.

So what stops me from doing that or some other terrible crime? You have heard the old saying, “ There but for the grace of God, go I.” That’s really the answer, that God’s grace freely given to me keeps me from doing the worst things that I am capable of. You may ask why God does not give his grace to others who do do the worse things that they are capable of. God actually does give them the grace, but why do they continue to exercise their free will in a deviant and perverse way? There is an answer but the theology is far to difficult for me to explain.

But still God searches “to the heart.” He loves, he forgives. I obviously can not search to the heart of any one, but if I could, I probably would not find it to be more devious or more perverse than my own. How then can I be judgmental, how can I be unforgiving, how can I be “holier than thou?” The lesson is clear: if God loves and forgives me after he has searched to my heart, how can I fail to love and forgive those around me? Oh, wait, is that what the Lord’s prayer means?

We are rushing headlong to the end of Lent. In the readings for the Holy Office for today we hear Isaiah tell us, “Seek the Lord while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near. Let the wicked one [with the devious and perverse heart] abandon his or her way” Is 55:6-7 And we hear from Hebrews, “Continue to have confidence since the reward is so great. You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.” Heb 10:35-36.

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