A man stopped me in the petrol station this week. I thought he was going to ask me for money, but to my astonishment he said. “Can you explain to me Father, the words in the Mass when the priest says “Look not on our sins but on the faith of the Church.” I explained that it was our faith in God that saves us, that if God looked only at our sins, we would have no hope. Instead we put our trust in his love and mercy. I think he went away satisfied.
What I would have wanted to go on to say was that faith isn’t a one-off thing. Boom, I have faith in God, and then everything is OK. No! Faith is a lifetime process. It means opening ourselves up to God in trust and hope. It means letting God work within us even in areas where we would rather not let him in. You see, we humans are very complex creatures, aren’t we? We are a bit like a house with lots and lots of rooms. So we might let God in through the front door, and into the best room in the house, but we wouldn’t really encourage him into some of the other more messy rooms where we prefer to keep the doors shut.
So when Jesus says “Behold I stand at the door and knock” (Rev 3:20) we have to realise that even if we have let him in one or two of our doors, there are always quite a few more that he will be knocking on. We hear this in our 2nd Reading today (James 1:17-27) where James says that the word (that is the word of God) has been planted in us – that is in those of us who are Christians – but, he says, we must “Accept and submit” to that word, and he goes on to say “You must do what the word tells you, and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves” Yes God knocks, but he will not force any of our doors open, even though he could. It is up to us to open each door and let him in.
Today in the Gospel Jesus suggests what some of these doors may have behind them. Things within us that we need to face up to, rather than relying on what we look like on the surface. It is a long list! “Fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, malice, deceit, envy, slander, pride, folly” Now we have to be careful here because Jesus calls all these things “intentions”. So it is not enough to say “Well I haven’t murdered anyone, so that one’s OK” , because Jesus also tells us (Matthew 8:21-22) that if we are angry with someone, it is more or less the same as murder, and if we lust after someone it is the same as adultery!
So I thought we might now look at a couple of things on this list and see how we might open the door and let God see and begin to heal some of the evil intentions that lie hidden in our hearts. Some of you will be relieved, and others disappointed, that I am not going to talk about fornication or adultery, not least because these are too obvious. I would rather head for one of the more hidden rooms that affects the way we are, and look at two word in the middle of that list “avarice” and “malice”.
In our modern world, where there are endless things available for us to possess, avarice (which means wanting more and more things) is a problem that affects us all. I am always in danger of wanting to buy the latest gadget – some of you will know that temptation – or the latest car or computer, or even the latest ride-on lawn-mower! Others of you might recognise the desire to buy another piece of clothing, or shoes, or some other fashion accessory! And even if we manage to resist these temptations, they still play on our mind, don’t they?
Malice is to think badly about someone. It may lead on to malicious gossip, but it can just be a bad feeling towards someone who has hurt us or a loved-one that we cannot forgive. This kind of feeling can fester within us almost without us realising it, and can mean that we think negatively about lots of our fellow human beings because of one or two bad experiences with them. It can, of course, be something as simple as the way I think about some of my fellow drivers on the road, which can lead to my driving becoming more aggressive.. leading one day to that moment when things go really wrong and my aggression leads to an accident!
So there are a couple of rooms that we might well need to let God into. Our temptation is to try to sort the rooms out ourselves – to go in every now and then and try to tidy it up before we let anyone else see it. We may make a pretty good job of it, and then where are we? Well sitting in another room called pride! “I’m OK. I can run my life and sort myself out! I don’t need anyone else, least of all God.” Faith is letting God in, admitting the weakness symbolised by these rooms. so that we do not rely on our own power but work on it in the power and mercy of God.