You may have seen the British comedy on PBS Keeping Up Appearances, about Hyacinth Bucket (she insists pronouncing it “Bouquet”} Hyacinth believes in keeping up appearances. She’s intent on impressing people with who she is, what and who she knows and what she owns. She’s superior to others, she thinks. Some of her “low-brow” family members embarrass her terribly. She tries to bring her long-suffering husband, Richard, up to her standards, but never succeeds.
The comedy pokes fun at what Jesus warns his disciples and the Pharisees about in our gospel today–appearances. Putting your trust in appearances. It’s not things outside, like the house you live in, the car you drive, the job you have, the clothes you wear, the health regime you follow that count most. Appearances inevitably disappear. It’s what’s within you, what’s in your heart, that remains.
Certainly Jesus wasn’t against external things, like washing your hands before you eat or cleaning the pots and pans afterwards. He knew the value of customs and external practices in society and religion and he kept them himself. He knew outside things influence us. He wasn’t against a good home, a good job, a good life. It’s extravagance he’s warns against, an excessive dependence on appearances that don’t last. It’s failing to pay attention to what’s in the human heart he warns against.
The world within is more important; what’s in our hearts makes the difference. Our search for God ends there, nowhere else.
Notice in today’s gospel Jesus seems to describe the world within as a battleground. What comes out of your heart can defile you and the world around you.
“Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.
From within people, from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.” Mark 7
Now, we’re not used to hearing that that kind of negative description of ourselves these days. We like to see ourselves in a more positive light. We’re beautiful people, with gifts and talents. But take a look at the shootings, the murders, the rapes, the greed, the anger that we see all around us. Where do they begin? In the human heart. Are those things absent from our own hearts? The greatest saints call themselves the greatest sinners. They’re right.
Yet, God comes to dwell in our hearts.
A few days ago we celebrated the feast of St. Augustine. He certainly understood the battleground of the human heart very well. In his Confessions he describes frankly his own unlikeness to God and then God’s grace brings him to see and hear and love. It wasn’t his brilliant mind or human gifts that brought him the recognize God in his heart. It was the grace of God, which we all look for and are given.
Listen to him describe his conversion, when the Light that filled the universe came to rest in him. “Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so.”
“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking you there,
and upon the shapely things you made
I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.” Augustine, Confessions