‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ 2 Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another…
10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord , and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: ‘O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant…
1 Samuel 1:10-11
How easily are we, like the disciples, beguiled by impressive sights? If you stand at the crest of the hill here on Ridley road you can see the tops of the buildings in the CBD.
And if you think they are impressive when you stand at the foot of them looking up to the heavens, wait till you see the new World Trade Centre. It is even taller than the two that were destroyed by al-Qaeda.
Certainly, the large stones that remain as part of the Temple Mount after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 are still impressive. They say one of them probably weighs as much as a jumbo jet. What is it in human beings that we are drawn to the grand and the powerful? We seem to fail to notice the things, the people, who are equally important if not more so.
Last week and this week we have two Old Testament stories of the weak and the powerless playing important roles. Last week we heard the story of the foreign widow Ruth giving birth to Obed, the grandfather of King David. This week we have the story of the barren Hannah who will give birth to Samuel. Samuel would not only be a priest and prophet in his own right but he would anoint David as King. The Old Testament has a wonderful thread running through it that celebrates these “little saints” as I called them on All Saints Day. These stories of little saints include: Sarah who was also barren; the two midwives who safely delivered Moses; the Canaanite prostitute who protected the Jewish spies; Naomi and Ruth; and Hannah. Both Elizabeth and Mary in the New Testament carry on that same threat and they are joined by the Syrophoenician woman who dared to ask Jesus for the crumbs that fall from the table. No doubt Jesus would want us to include the Widow who put her copper coins in the temple treasury.
But like the disciples we are often drawn to the impressive stones, the very tall skyscrapers, the large houses with a nice swimming pool and so forth. If it is not structural it may well be the royal family, various celebrities or people in positions of power. I know for me the big Harley Davidson and BMW motorcycles catch my attention.
Jesus tells us that all these things that impress us will pass away. For the congregations reading Mark’s Gospel in that first century the temple had already been destroyed by the Roman army. When we see the earth shattering destruction of the World Trade Centres it should remind us not to be too fixated on the grand and the powerful.
Jesus seems to be suggesting that these world shattering events, not only will happen, but need to happen. For us to grow to be more like Jesus we need to have the equivalent life shattering experience that turns our world upside down. The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us out of the comfortable and the impressive to the way of the cross. It is only in the way of the cross that we discover the new life of resurrection.
I love the metaphor that Ezekiel uses (Ezekiel 36.21-31) speaking of a new heart that will replace the old heart of stone. May be it is even more inspiring these days as we hear stories of people who have had a heart transplant. Learning to be like Jesus, to see with his eyes and to love with his heart requires a radical transformation in our lives.
Sometimes this change of heart happens when we go to a Christian Conference, a special retreat, Cursillo or an Alpha course. Often it comes over time as we diligently keep the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, reading the Scriptures and giving with generosity. In our congregations there are wonderful souls who have clearly been transformed and see and love as Christ does. As a Parish community we still have a journey to go on until there is a critical mass of in the Parish with new hearts.
So what changes can we expect when this radical life shattering transformation has happened? We will see people like Hannah, Naomi and Ruth, with love knowing the blessing they are to us. We will no longer judge them as worthless because of poverty or whatever it is that makes them pray to God for mercy. We see in the two midwives who broke the law to save Moses’ life the inspiration to challenge unjust laws, may be even breaking the law ourselves.
Where ever we see human beings in pain we will know that we are “our brother’s keeper” to quote Cain and that we have a responsibility to reach out with love. Our capacity to see and feel the pain will remove fear of these other people. We will know that there needs are the same as our needs, we all need to be loved, to feel safe to know we belong, and of course to have enough food and shelter. Perhaps we will come to this knowledge intellectually to begin with but it is when it has seeped into our heart that the transformation is nearly complete. Our actions of loving care, deep respect and a willingness to serve will demonstrate the process has reached fruition. The goal in a parish community is to have a critical mass of people well on the journey of transformation and we will see big changes.
But this new heart won’t just help us to see people with love. We will look at a little seedling emerging from the earth and wonder at the miracle of life. We will hold an acorn and wonder at the beauty of an oak tree. And bit by bit the earth will seem more like a mother or even a bride. Our passion will be to care for the earth. Deep ecological thinking will be normal.
In that same vain, the new heart within us will transform the way we see animals. We won’t see them merely as a commodity to be traded and consumed. I suspect that many of our secular brothers and sisters already have part of the transformation complete. When people see the sheep or cattle dying on ships taking them to the Middle East the outrage is deafening. When we have the same outrage when children and other vulnerable people are in various forms of detention or forced into slavery we will know a global heart transplant is happening.
So this week I encourage you to pray that the large stones will be torn down: anything that impresses because it denotes power, anything that creates feelings of belonging and well being by excluding the weak and vulnerable. Let’s pray that our hearts of stone might be completely removed allowing space for a loving generous heart of flesh.
Pray, Lord, gives us the grace to see with your eyes, to love as you love.