“The Lord Looks on the Heart” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, March 19, 2023

“The Lord does not see as human beings see; humans look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart”. 

So we read in our first reading today. Samuel, sent by God to anoint another king of Israel to replace the disgraced King Saul, allows himself to be fooled into thinking that Eliab must be the one chosen by God, no doubt because he looked tall and strong and lordly. God disabuses him of that idea with those words I just quoted a moment ago. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. God chooses David, the youngest son of Jesse, and most disregarded in that Jesse does not even include him in the first group of his sons, and only somewhat reluctantly reveals to Samuel that he does, in fact, have another son. God chooses David because he is able to look into his heart and see all the ideal qualities of a true king of Israel there, including his utter faithfulness and obedience to God. In fact, later on God calls David “a man after his own heart?” What about you and me, brothers and sisters? Would God be able to say of us, as he looks into our heart, “here is a person after my own heart, one who thinks and feels as I do“? (By the way, God’s choice of David as king, despite his youth, is well proven just a short while after this story in our first reading, when it is David, the youngest son of Jesse, not any of his elder and stronger looking brothers who is prepared to take on and defeat the fearsome giant, Goliath).

Indeed, the whole point of Lent is so that God can bring us out into this spiritual “desert” place, in order to scrutinize our hearts, as I said last week, when speaking about the Lenten Scrutinies. When God led Israel through Moses out from Egypt into a time of journeying across the Sinai desert, it was specifically, as Moses affirms to “test Israel, to know their hearts, to see if Israel would be loyal to God” amid all the difficulties that the desert lifestyle would bring them. The prophet Hosea tells us that God is forever taking us into “desert “situations to “speak to our hearts” (Hosea 2:14). God wants us to know what he sees when he looks into our hearts, both the good and the bad parts. These are the secret places within us where the truth about us lies, the places where others can’t go, and don’t know, even those closest to us. It is the Holy Spirit, whom St Paul tells us, “searches the depths of everyone, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10), and brings up those hidden, secret things into the light of day, if we will let him. 

Sometimes the truth about us is hidden even from ourselves, and God wants to reveal that truth, not to humiliate us, but to warn us and protect us. St Peter clearly did not know the cowardice that lay behind all his bluster and seeming self-confidence, because when Jesus prophesied at the Last Supper that all his disciples would run away from him at his crucifixion, Peter indignantly and thoughtlessly said that, even if everyone else did that, he would never do such a thing, leading to Jesus telling him that Peter would deny him three times that night. Which, of course, we know exactly happened, much to Peter’s extreme shock and dismay. Jesus could read Peter’s heart, and discern through the Spirit, what truly lay there, waiting to be exposed in a time of crisis and danger. And you and I need to know those inner weaknesses ourselves, brothers and sisters, otherwise we will be easy meat for the devil, who, as St Peter himself, older and wiser, will say in his first letter, “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

It is not all bad news, however.

Oftentimes, we surprise ourselves, when in moments of crisis, we demonstrate faith and trust in God, and a courage and steadfastness, which surprises us, as well as others, who didn’t know we had that in us. But God knows, and he allows this time of Lenten “testing” to show that, with his help, we can overcome our spiritual enemies, the world, the flesh, and especially the devil. The devil continually over-reaches himself by attacking those he thinks are easy targets, only to find that they are not the push-overs he expected. As I said a couple of weeks ago, God trusts us to be loyal to him, no matter what temptation or trial the devil throws at us, so let’s not betray that trust , ok, brothers and sisters?

It is instructive to see, at the core of our gospel story today, that, as the man born blind is being “scrutinized” and grilled by the Pharisees, and no-one, not even his parents, are taking his side, that Jesus is nowhere to be seen. Surely he should have come charging in here, to stick up for the man he had let in for all this trouble, by healing him on the Sabbath. But no, there is no sign of Jesus, in these moments of great stress for the healed blind man. Why is that? It is because, as I said earlier, Jesus trusts him to stand up for himself and support Jesus and refute the lies his opponents are throwing at him. He does not waver in his belief that Jesus did heal him, and so cannot be the enemy of God, as the Pharisees are saying. I am sure that this man probably surprised himself in the way he was able to stand his ground against his spiritual  and religious leaders and expose their duplicity and wrong thinking. But  Jesus did promise his disciples in the gospels that “when they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12: 11-12). This is exactly what happens in this case, and is exactly what will happen in our own case, brothers and sisters, in our own moment of trial and temptation to give up and believe the lies of the devil that God will not be able to help us, and we will not be able to resist. We will find at that exact moment, if we look for it, the courage, the strength and the faithfulness to God that we need. It may very well surprise us, but that is precisely why God seems to “stand aloof” when the going gets really tough during our Lenten sojourn in the spiritual wilderness. 

“Humans look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart”. 

As we journey on again from this oasis point, back into the desert of Lent, to be put to the test by all the devil, the world and the flesh may throw at us, let us take heart. Let us take heart from knowing that God, who sees us through and through, way beyond what lies on the surface, trusts us to come through strengthened, confirmed, newly aware of our inner weaknesses, but also of our strengths, and able to deal yet another deadly blow to Satan and his kingdom of darkness. As our second reading tells us “Once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord, through your baptism and confirmation, you are in the light. Live as children of light – for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true … So awake sleeper, and rise from the death of sin, and Christ will shine his light upon you” Amen.