There is a wisdom story that says that at the beginning of time, God resolved to hide within creation. As God was wondering how best to do this, the angels gathered around. ‘I want to hide myself in my creation’, God said. ‘I need to find a place that is not too easily discovered, for it is in the search for me that my people will grow in spirit and in understanding.’
‘Why don’t you hide yourself deep in their earth?’ the first angel suggested. God pondered for a while, then replied, ‘No. It will not be long before they learn how to mine the earth and discover all the treasures that it contains. They will discover me too quickly, and they will not have had enough time to do their growing.’
‘Why don’t you hide yourself on their moon?’ a second angel suggested. God thought about this idea for a while, and then replied, ‘No. It will take a little longer, but before too long they will learn how to fly through space. They will arrive on the moon and explore its secrets, and they will discover me too soon, before they have had enough time to do their growing.’
The angels were at a loss to know what hiding place to suggest. There was a long silence.
‘I know,’ piped up one angel, finally. ‘Why don’t you hide yourself within their own hearts? They will never think of looking there!’
‘That’s it!’ said God, delighted to have found the perfect hiding place.
And so it is that God hides secretly deep within the heart of every one of God’s people, until he or she has grown enough in spirit and in understanding to risk the great journey into the secret core of their own being. And there, each person discovers their creator, the Source of life and love, and is rejoined with God for all eternity.(Wisdom Stories by Margaret Silf, “God in Hiding”, pgs. 32-33, Traditional story adapted)
For ancient Hebrew people, the heart was considered the centre of a person’s being. The heart was where the essence of the human being resided. Wisdom, intellect, spirit, as well as emotions and conscience, resided in the heart. When an ancient Hebrew person spoke about the heart they would do so with this understanding.
God was believed to be transcendent and apart from human nature so it was a radical proclamation that Jeremiah makes when he tells his people that the time is coming soon when God’s law – God’s covenant and desire for all people – would be known to everyone intimately within their own hearts. Every person would know God personally and be guided by God’s law – God’s persistent spirit of love and justice.
Commentaries that I’ve read this week offer these observations:
“No longer will the law be engraved in stone and displayed in rotundas for all to see but none to follow. The days are surely coming when the law will be engraved in the people’s hearts and displayed in their lives. No longer will people know about God – all the right words, all the right theology. The days are surely coming when the people, from the least to the greatest, will know God – with all the intimacy that word entails.” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 2, 2008, pg. 124)
“Thus, the knowledge of God becomes universal, removing distinctions of class or privilege. Education no longer divides people; the knowledge of God applies to all people alike… [and] one’s actionswill reflect what fills one’s heart.” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 2, pg. 125)
“Jeremiah’s prophecy to the people…offers us as well a powerful vision of faithful life. Invited now to live a moral life that combines interior and exterior life, the person living in a community formed by the new covenant will know God in a new way, as the one who seeks constantly to reconcile with us and the one who speaksdirectly to the heart. (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 2, 2008, pg. 126)
Like Jeremiah, Jesus was a Jewish prophet who drew on the counter-cultural wisdom of his religious tradition. Jesus also added his own interpretations of the teachings of the law and prophets. In Matthew’s Gospel we hear this in Jesus’ explanation of the essence of the Law and the Prophets when he combines the Shema, the Jewish daily prayer, and an item from Jewish law from Leviticus:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all you mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-39)
Jesus never meant to negate the wisdom of the prophetic tradition that informed and influenced his teachings and mission. Jesus sought to broaden the understanding of the inclusive social justice messages gleaned from the prophets. Jesus was one who created inclusive communities wherever he travelled. Like Jeremiah, Jesus wanted people to embrace God’s presence in an intimate way that would inform the actions of their own lives. These actions did not align with the strict religious and cultural laws and the oppressive forces that dominated the lives of the vast majority of the people in his time and place.
Seeing and experiencing with one’s heart was at the centre of Jesus’ teachings. He opened his heart to everyone freely and asked others to do the same. John’s Gospel often repeats Jesus’ invitation to, “come and see” and “follow me”. People are encouraged to see for themselves, hear for themselves, and decide for themselves if they are willing to embrace the transformative way of living that Jesus exemplifies.
In today’s reading from the Gospel of John it is easy to miss that the scene begins with a request from “some Greeks” who “wish to see Jesus”. Jesus’ ministry is stretching beyond the boundaries of his original Jewish followers and expanding out into the wider world. Jesus emphasizes that when the commitment to follow him is made then he will be with you always in heart and in mind wherever your journey takes you. That was an especially important message for John’s community to hear in the years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In my own experience, the journey of Christian faith is guided by the heart and empowered by God’s spirit at work within each one of us. In the Fall of 1994, when I was at the end of a year-long discernment process with the United Church and was preparing to begin my formal theological studies, someone asked me, “How do you know this is the right thing to do with your life?” My response was to point to my head and say, “I don’t know in my head that this is the right course of action.” Then I pointed to my heart and said, “But, I know in my heart it is the right decision.” This kind of knowing with the heart is something no one else can do for you. It requires getting in touch with God’s spirit whose movement and inspiration is experienced in a profoundly personal way.
Thinking about this and reflecting on today’s readings from Jeremiah and John reminded me of a story:
It is said there was once a great explorer who returned to his hometown after many years journeying through uncharted lands. There was great excitement among the crowds that had gathered to cheer as he returned for they were very keen to hear about his travels.
But when they asked, he could find no way of describing the emotions that ran through him when he remembered the beauty of the mornings and the wildness of the night; the shades and sound hidden in the jungles and the terrors of the fast flowing rivers; the smells contained within the flowers and the animals that followed him as he moved through the mountains. All he could say to the people was, ‘Go and see for yourselves’. And he drew them a map of the land he had visited.
Immediately the elders of the town took the map and carefully framed it and hung it in a place of importance in the Town Hall. Many people came to gaze at the map: a number talked about it, a few wrote learned works about it and experts arose who knew every hillside, every turn in the river, every waterfall, every valley. But not one person responded to his invitation to experience the journey themselves. (Seasons of the Spirit, Pentecost 2, p.28)
It seems to me that over the centuries, the Christian church has at times fiercely guarded the map – in whatever form that has been manifested – and has not often enough risked the journey into the heart of Christ’s ministry. Jesus asks his followers to come and see for ourselves and to follow the compass of our own hearts that are guided and inspired by God. We don’t know where the journey will take us but we can be assured that God is with us and Christ is with us. Throughout all the adventures and challenges that life offers we are assured that we are not alone on this journey of faith.
With gratitude for God’s presence that enlivens our hearts, and inspires our mission as people of faith, I’ll close with excerpts from a poem by Joyce Rupp:
Heart of Love, Source of all kindness,
Teacher of the ways of goodness,
you are hidden in the pockets of daily life,
waiting to be discovered.
…Heart of all hearts, the First and Best of all Companions,
you are the Gift secreted in our depths, connecting us with others.
…Heart of Generosity, Abundance of insight and hope,
daily you offer us gifts of growth,
leading to continual transformation.
Heart of Deepest Peace, Centre of Tranquility,
Resting Place at the core of our being,
you are waiting always for our return to this sacred home.
(The Heart of Eternal Love by Joyce Rupp, Out of the Ordinary, pg. 239-240)