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A Compassionate Heart

I have three stories today. Three stories about having a compassionate heart.

In 1807 in northern Virginia, James Wilson, an elderly man, went for a walk one day. At a certain point he became exhausted and sat on a log to rest. He had two miles to go and he knew that he couldn't make it back home. A man on a horse came by and James visited with him briefly. Another man came by and James said to the man, "I am so exhausted.

I need a ride home." The stranger said, "Yes, I will be glad to help." and he hoisted James onto his horse and gave him a ride home.

Then the stranger said to James, "Did you see anyone else on this road?" James said, "Yes. I saw another man, but I did not ask him to help me. "Why not? Because I could see that he was a cold-hearted person. But when I looked into your eyes I could see that you have a warm and caring heart." The stranger turned out to be Thomas Jefferson, the third president of our nation. He helped James because he had a warm and caring heart.

My second heart to heart story comes from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.

One day God said to Jeremiah, “Go and purchase a linen sash and after wearing it for a short time go and bury it in the cleft of a rock.” Jeremiah did this and waited for further instructions.

Many months later God said to Jeremiah, “Go and dig up the sash that you had buried.” Jeremiah did so and discovered that the sash was all rotten and corrupted. Then God explained to Jeremiah what this was all about. God said, “The sash represents my people and in former times they had been very close to me just as a sash is close to the person who is wearing it. But now my people are decayed and rotten and corrupted. They have refused to listen to me and they have worshipped other gods. Many other gods.”

“However.” God said. “If they repent and confess their sins and come back to me and worship me and follow my commandments, I will be merciful. And I will give them shepherds who will be kind and merciful after my own heart.” But history tells us that the people did not repent and they were carried off to Babylon for forty years of captivity.

I share that story with you today because it contains a statement about God’s heart. God told the people that His heart is kind and merciful.

Our third story is found in today’s Gospel. Another story that is centered on the heart. When Jesus is talking to his disciples, he is concerned about what happens in a person’s heart. Jesus says, “You have heard the commandment which says, “You shall not commit murder.’ But I say to you, ‘Whoever is angry with his sister or brother will be liable to judgment.’” In other words, if you nourish vengeful and hostile thoughts in your heart you have committed a sin.

Jesus says, “You have heard the commandment which says, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, ‘If you look at someone with lust, you have already committed adultery in your heart.’” In other words, if you nourish thoughts of infidelity you have already committed adultery in your heart. It is sinful to be unfaithful to your spouse and it is sinful to want to be unfaithful to your spouse.

So, what does Jesus want? He wants us to be pure of heart. He wants us to keep our hearts in the right place. And don’t put yourself in situations which add poison to your fantasy life. That means no pornographic movies and no sexually explicit TV shows. And no pornographic websites on your computer. And no risqué photos on your smart phone. Jesus wants his followers to be pure of heart. He wants us to behave correctly.

And he wants us to have our hearts in the right place. Our hearts should be oriented totally toward love. In God’s kingdom, good actions are a good start. Good actions are important!

But, our thoughts and attitudes must also be pure and holy. Jesus takes the Ten Commandments and he internalizes them. He makes them a matter of the heart.

One day he saw the Pharisees teaching the people to wash their cups and kettles in a certain way. The Pharisees said, “If you don’t do it our way, you will be unclean.” Jesus then said, “That is false teaching. The condition of your cups and kettles will not make you clean or unclean. Don’t get hung up on externals. What really counts is what is happening in your hearts. You need to purify your thoughts and you need to purify your intentions.

If you are planning to hurt others, you are not pure. If you are planning to help others you are pure of heart.” So Jesus was attacking the false teaching of the Pharisees. He was promoting God’s way of thinking. Following God’s Law is a matter of the heart. In order to follow God’s law you have to have holy actions and holy attitudes.

The words of Jesus are challenging. It is not easy to have our hearts in the right place. We have pride and greed and lust and selfishness and envy and laziness tugging at our hearts. Jesus does not abolish the old law. He keeps the Ten Commandments and then he adds two new commandments: the laws of love: Love the Lord thy God and love thy neighbor.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure of heart.” Blessed are those whose hearts are in the right place.

I will close with a short summary. Thomas Jefferson helped James because his heart was compassionate. In the Book of Jeremiah God revealed that his heart is kind and merciful. And Jesus is calling each of us to be Pure of Heart.

We ask the Lord to give us the grace we need to be pure of heart.

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