Okay, so Jesus is giving his sermon and he says some pretty wild stuff. One of the wild things was that you can be guilty of cheating on your spouse without actually doing anything physical with anyone else. How so? If you do it in your heart, he says, you did it. He says all sorts of other things in the same vein. Jesus focused on the intentions of the heart in a way that revolutionized ethics forever. His cry was not just ‘serve God and help your neighbour.’ It was ‘love God and love your neighbour.’ Wild, eh?
But is it possible to focus on the heart too much?
Jesus said, “If someone hits you, let him do it again.” How should we take that? Well, obviously it means that we ought to have an attitude of peace and love even in the face of people who are mean to us. Right? It is, after all, a heart issue. Right? So much of a heart issue, in fact, that I don’t really need to do what Jesus is suggesting here, so long as my heart is in the right place. And the same goes for his idea that we should help thieves rip us off, give to every bum who asks from us and become new people. Right? Right?
So, give to whoever asks = Have a giving spirit (actual giving optional).
Don’t retaliate = Have a non-retaliatory heart (and retaliate if you feel the need).
Be born again = Be willing to become a new kind of person (and it will happen in some intangible, non-real kinda way).
Love your neighbour in the same way you love yourself = Love him internally (little outward action necessary).
Does any of this make any sense?
Can I actually say, when the dude on the street asks me for money, ‘I gave him money in my heart, just like Jesus told me to’? Only if I can say, after being caught cheating on my wife, that I didn’t really do it because I didn’t do it in my heart.
Not a chance – it’s not just about the heart. When Jesus gathered the people together and separated the accepted from the rejected he didn’t say to the accepted:
Come, you blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you, for I was hungry, and in your heart you gave me food, I was a stranger, and in your heart you welcomed me in…Whatever you did in your heart to the least of these, you did in your heart to me.
And he didn’t say to the rejected:
Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry, and you did not feed me in your heart, I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me in your heart…Whatever you didn’t do in your heart to the least of these, you did not do it to me.
The focus on the heart was meant to spur us on to deeper good works, not give us a cop-out.