May 19th, 2016
We began Q&A Sunday with the story of Justine Sacco, one of many who’ve had the unenviable experience of being almost universally condemned for one reprehensible comment made on social media. Extending mercy to those like her wouldn’t have excused their public blunders, but it would’ve demonstrated an awareness of humanity’s universal propensity for acting cruelly. As we argued from the beatitude in the sermon, mercy ought to be prominent in us given, among other reasons, our inevitable need for it.
The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, will play a part in our understanding of this week’s beatitude. But in his aptly entitled book, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, he writes of the eternal context that must inform our responsibility to let “mercy triumph over judgment”(Ja 2:13)–especially in the public words we choose.
Do you judge like the crowd, in its capacity as a crowd? You are not obliged to have an opinion about what you do not understand. No, on the contrary, you are eternally excused from that. But you are eternally responsible as an individual to render an account for your opinion, and for your judgment. And in eternity, you will not be asked inquisitively and professionally, as though by a newspaper reporter, whether there were many that had the same — wrong opinion. You will be asked only whether you have held it, whether you have spoiled your soul by joining in this frivolous and thoughtless judging, because the others, because the many judged thoughtlessly. You will be asked only whether you may not have ruined the best within you by joining the crowd in its defiance, thinking that you were many and therefore you had the prerogative, because you were many, that is, because you were many who were wrong. In eternity it will be asked whether you may not have damaged a good thing, in order that you also might judge with them that did not know how to judge, but who possessed the crowd’s strength, which in the temporal sense is significant but to which eternity is wholly indifferent.
Kierkegaard practically offers his own commentary upon Jesus’ strong words in Matthew 12:35-37:
The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
Indeed the tongue is a fire (Ja 3:6). And the allure of a public shaming is powerful. It’s almost like we need some abidingly persuasive sense that we are the beneficiaries of mercy in order to eschew the temptation to public condemnation and instead embrace mercy when the opportunity presents itself. See how the Gospel is key?
It’s only been a month since we spent time seeking to be disentangled from the sins that are “deadly” because they are daily. Continuing on a the theme of the problematic aspects of social media, an article in The Atlantic this week (HT: Think Christian) takes aim at how our online platforms possess a remarkable propensity to provoke what’s most indefensible in us. As always, it’s not the technology that’s to blame, but we ourselves. The platforms’ power is only as great as the potential for wickedness within.
Modern life’s newest invitations to actions we later regret make this week’s passage a fitting focus: purity of heart. But what does it mean to have a pure heart? Is that even possible given both what we find in Scripture about the heart’s deceptiveness and also what we know of our own?
We’re going to argue that purity of heart has everything to do with motivation. And motivation is in essence an act of valuation. But here’s an introduction to what Sunday has for us from D.A. Carson:
Purity of heart must never be confused with outward conformity to rules. Because it is the heart which must be pure, this beatitude interrogates us with awkward questions like these: ‘What do you think about when your mind slips into neutral? How much sympathy do you have for deception, no matter how skillful? For shady humor, no matter how funny? To what do you pay consistent allegiance? What do you want more than anything else? What and whom do you love? To what extent are your actions and words accurate reflections of what is in your heart? To what extent do your actions and words constitute a cover-up for what is in your heart?
He knows our hearts–and loves them anyway. Submit yours Sunday for scrutiny, and to the kindness that leads to repentance.
Solemn as our focus this Sunday may sound, don’t assume the mood will be all melancholy. On the contrary, you might hear something toe-tapping like this: