“Then Jesus called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:14-15, 21-23
Here again we see the consistent message of Jesus that our truest discipleship of Him; our truest worship of God; our truest self comes from the heart. And when Jesus uses the word ‘heart’ he is referring to that part of our inner being (our essence) from which flows the real you and the real me – the part of us we cannot hide from God though we try and disguise it from others. It is not the organ that beats in our chest that Jesus is referring to, of course. Neither is it a reference to what is merely emotional.
What Jesus is saying is that any attempt at lasting change and reform in us must start within. We can change address; we can change jobs; we can change friends; we can change church: but the fact remains that all these changes will not amount to much if we are not prepared to change our heart as well.
We each need to look honestly at ourselves and come to terms with who we are. We cannot afford to continue to blame others or look solely at our circumstances around us to provide an excuse for what we do or say, and the lifestyle we live. We must not waste our time in judging others, and comparing ourselves with others, in an attempt to somehow feel a bit more justified in our actions. Taking personal responsibility for our actions is where it all begins.
In the Old Testament Reading this past Sunday, taken from the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 4, we hear Moses admonishing the people with these words: “So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the LORD your God with which I am charging you.”
The message of personal responsibility and personal commitment rings loud and clear in this address from Moses.
Indeed, to be able to embrace a better future and move forward with a sense of purpose certainly entails taking on board these truths. It applies to our individual lives, the life of the church, and the life of the nation.
As we enter the month of September, we here in Belize turn much of our attention to our national celebrations – the two focal events being the tenth (the 214th anniversary of the Battle of St George’s Caye), and the twenty-first (our 31st anniversary of Independence).
The theme chosen for this year’s celebrations is “MANY FACES, MANY DREAMS, ONE GOAL – CELEBRATING BELIZE”.
Undoubtedly, the theme is once again inviting us to acknowledge our diversity even as we move toward a desired unity. It paints the picture of a diversity of ethnicity, cultural habits, religious beliefs, ideas, thoughts, aspirations, and the list can go on. Yet, the goal should be a better Belize for all, a safer Belize for all, a Belize with equal opportunity for all to succeed.
But we have seen over the centuries since the Battle and over the decades since Independence, that this dream of a better Belize for will not come because we simply change governments; or administrations; or laws; or neighborhoods; or individuals who seek public office; or any such thing.
The vision of a better Belize can only come, in the truest sense of the word, when we change as individuals; when we decide we are going to treat each other differently and respond to each other differently. It will come when we are prepared to respect one another as persons created in the image and likeness of their creator. It will come when individually and collectively we can honestly look into the proverbial mirror and see ourselves as we really are – no more pretence; no more faking it; no more mask.
This process of soul-searching has to take place at all levels – from those in leadership (both church and state), to the average citizen who may be tempted to believe it does not matter for him or her. It does matter and matter a lot.
Here is where the currency of our Lord’s words ring loud and clear. There is no escaping his demand. “Listen to me, all of you,” Jesus says, “and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
My sisters and brothers, even as we move toward another anniversary of our independence as a nation, let the call be sounded for each of us, as citizens of the wonderful nation of Belize, to embrace our personal responsibility to work for a better Belize. Let us be willing to diligently search our hearts and seek God’s will in all we undertake. Let us listen attentively and earnestly to the counsel of our Lord Jesus Christ.