Every now and again we get a text that truly stumps theologians. It’s not that the text is confusing or difficult to interpret, per say, but that the text is layered and full of multiple meanings and complexities that seem to get more complicated as a person works to unravel the lesson in order to understand it better. A great number of people have written their own thoughts and teachings of this text from Mark’s Gospel – and many of them much, much wiser than you or I – but I found, as I researched and studied, that the waters refused to be less muddied, and I was no more the wiser.
All of today’s readings carry a nugget of wisdom about how hard it is to speak from the heart, that is, to speak truth, to be and do and live out what it is that we carry with ourselves in our hearts. All of today’s readings carry a warning of what evils lie in wait in most peoples hearts. I don’t think that there is any one answer about how to deal with the evil that lurks in the shadows of every persons heart. And this makes preaching gospel and good news through these texts rather difficult.
The Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis from Luther Seminary made a statement, though seemingly simple, that holds vast wisdom about the good news in our readings:
“What we say and what we do reveal who we are. It is that simple. Jesus knew that. Mark wants us to know that. And we often forget that. What you say and what you do are not separate from who you are. Period. Your words and your actions are indeed windows through which to view your soul.”[i]
And this brought to mind a story that I heard a number of years ago. This story helps me to understand what it means to live out the idea of ‘speaking from the heart,’ and I hope that it will help unmuddy today’s readings just enough for you to wonder a little longer at what God is up to in the world, and in each of us today and through many tomorrows. The story is called “The Perfect Heart” and it is adapted by Priya Sher.
The Perfect Heart
A young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it.
But an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said, “Your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.”
The crowd and the young man looked at the old man’s heart. It was beating strongly but full of scars. It had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in … but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. The young man looked at the old man’s heart and laughed. “You must be joking,” he said. “Compare your heart with mine … mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.”
“Yes,” said the old man, “Yours is perfect looking … but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a person to whom I have given my love….. I tear out a piece of my heart and give it to them … and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the empty place in my heart but because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges.
“Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away … and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges … giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too … and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?”
The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart. It fit …. but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges. The young man looked at his heart, not perfect anymore but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man’s heart flowed into his.
After receiving a piece of the old man’s heart the young man was feeling more full of energy and love than ever before.
He continued on his journey till he arrived at the next village where he met a beautiful girl. He had never felt such strong emotion before and decided that he wanted to give this girl a large piece of his heart. The girl accepted his heart but told the young man that she would not be able to give a piece of her heart to him. The young man cried and tears seeped through the big hole in his heart. He remembered the old man’s words, ‘giving love is taking a chance’. He decided he would not give pieces of his heart to anyone else now, because when the hole is empty the pain is so intense.
He continued on his journey to the next village and sat by a lake where a little orphan boy was playing by himself. The young child saw the man and asked him why he was so sad. The man told the little boy his story. After hearing his story the young orphan thought about his own heart and wanted to give a piece of it to the man but every time he tried to send it, it was returned back to him.
After several attempts the boy told the young man, ‘I have no parents no brothers or sisters and I realized after hearing your story that I have all this love to give. Today when I saw you sitting here I felt that if I had a brother he might look like you and I wanted to share my love with you and give you a piece of my heart but it seems you do not want to receive it.’ The man felt so touched he could feel the young orphan’s love trying to enter his heart so he opened his heart and received a piece of the orphan’s heart and returned a piece of his own heart to him. Both their hearts beat stronger and flowed with more love. Though the gouge left by the young girl was still raw and not filled, there was so much love pumping in the young man’s heart again. Now he understood why he needed to keep his heart open. He realized that we never know where love may be trying to enter from and by closing his heart he would have closed himself to infinite possibilities.
“What we say and what we do reveal who we are. It is that simple. Jesus knew that. Mark wants us to know that. And we often forget that. What you say and what you do are not separate from who you are. Period. Your words and your actions are indeed windows through which to view your soul.”[ii]
And it is important that we are surrounded by people who, lovingly, remind us of those moments of disconnect when we, like the young man in the story, break apart from who we are and how we are in the world: where we close our hearts to God. This strange disconnection of the heart and mind and person keeps us from seeing God’s in-breaking into the world; keeps us from seeing God opening parts of God’s heart to share pieces with the whole world and with each of us. To be able to see that we reorient ourselves time and time again, through words of confession and forgiveness, through words of baptismal and communion rites, through collective prayers of the gathered, through our gathering and going out again into a world that is desperate to be loved as we are loved.
It is hard to speak from the heart, that is, to speak truth, to be and do and live out what it is that we carry with ourselves in our hearts. But, when we know that God goes with each of us, it suddenly seems that our loads are a little lighter, our hearts are a little more full, and the possibilities around us are infinite. Thanks be to God.
Today’s image is borrowed and adapted from here.