Rending the Heart: Joel 2:13 – Rend your heart and not your garments.
An Israelite would wrap himself in sackcloth to signify mourning over loss or disaster, or grief for sin. Sackcloth was the garb for those humiliated by sadness or circumstance and often an expression of repentance. When the sense of grief and guilt was strong an individual would tear off their normal clothing to wear a band or skirt of rough, cheap, goat’s hair close to the body. Intense feeling could result in violent disrobing. External action, especially in matters of religion, is not always indicative of the attitude of the heart, and before God it is the intent of the heart that matters most. Sacraments, rites, symbols are divinely ordained means to guide the informed mind more closely towards God in candour or confidence. They assist the realization and confession of sin and impress upon us the way to forgiveness and reconciliation. Repentance is at once painful in the sense of personal shame and the awareness of wounding the love of God in the evil we have done, but joyful also in the anticipation of restored relationship.
Penitence is the inward posture of the awakened and contrite sinner, a sincere sorrow and regret for the waywardness of the heart and the wicked ways, works, and words that inevitably ensue from the corruption of our nature. The removal of “outer garments” as it were, or the performance of formal acts and rituals, is meaningless without the genuine inclination and cleansing of the heart. A heart void of lamentation for sin and love for the Lord voids sacramental or symbolic observance. Faith is of the essence in our dealings with God and without it, all is futile.
The emphasis on the external may be an expression of being earnest but can also be a token of spiritual emptiness which seeks compensation in frequent and scrupulous outward practices and material embellishments, conformity to custom and ceremony. The scrutiny of the Lord penetrates beyond appearances and searches at a depth beyond the surface of our lives. The attire of the believer is in renewal of character rather than styles of clothing (Colossians 3: 12-14), which means to say that true religion is not a fashion parade of pretended virtues for others to see and admire (hypocrisy) but a genuine holiness of heart that creates a compliance and compatibility with God. The cultivation of the Christian life and the keeping of the soul begins in “those who truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy gospel” (BCP). The incentive to repent and believe is well spoken by Joel: “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity (2:13b).
Humility of the Heart: Matthew 6:16-18 – When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“Piety” is a word that that popularly bears the connotation of criticism precisely because of the practices of the Pharisees and their kind who loved to display their religious rectitude and ritual correctness. They were given more to social display than sincere devotion to their unseen God who loves to share the secret life of his people (comforting and convicting). True godliness does not seek to be ostentatious but revels in the righteousness of everyday ordinariness. “Show-offs” in religion cause the grace of God to “shut-off”. Piety is to be actual in the heart and not an act before human eyes. Fasting was not among the first and most frequent requirements of the law. Whilst Jesus did not forbid it he did not overplay it and actually delayed it in the practice of his disciples: “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them?” (Mark 2:19).
Fasting has its benefits at certain times but it also lends itself to a sense of spiritual achievement, and superiority, and gives opportunity to self advertisement. Among the religious it can almost qualify as one of the works of supererogation of which our Article 14 speaks, something surplus to requirement in gaining the approval of God. The folk Jesus had in mind in this passage exuded smugness, self –satisfaction, and a love for recognition. Praise was their motive for piety and such motivation downgrades the beauty of the pure heart’s possession. Piety is the pleasant duty of those devoted to God. It emerges from the honour we ascribe to the Lord, the homage we render, the love that we have for his Name, and the obedience we give to his will. It sums up the whole disposition, and all the deeds, of our life as affectionately dedicated to him. “Only to your Father” (v18) indicates that piety is an exclusive expression of love and loyalty to our Supreme Desire and Attraction – God himself, who is “jealous” for our for our reverent and adoring attention and companionship as the Lover of our soul.
To debase worship of him to performance for the sake of praise of self is robbery of his glory and denial of his grace. His glory draws our attention to him and his grace draws and enables our affection to him, and false piety is an obnoxious lie. Our personal trysts with him are concealed from public gaze lest we become swollen with boastfulness and pride – in which case the trysts would cease.
Treasure of the Heart: Matthew 6: 19-21 – Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Treasure consists of that which is most valued by us. There are legitimate earthly treasures – persons, possessions, and various kinds of knowledge and experience. They are not despised, but gifts from God. But they are not “stored up “ as of ultimate and eternal worth. They may be taken away, lost, or surrendered, and we are certainly severed from them through death, as dear as they may be. The ultimate and eternal treasure is Jesus Christ in whom we have and retain all good things in our everlasting life with him. We cherish the Lord Jesus in and for himself and from God’s hand, through him, we receive the incalculable wealth of God’s goodness and generosity. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32). The triune God is our infinite Treasure and our knowledge and enjoyment of him our richest pleasure.
The final judgement is simply the opening of every human heart where every individual will be awarded with what he values most – the Living God as his closest Companion which entails complete bliss, or the prize of Self alone as one’s supreme possession and pursuit, which results in eternal emptiness, lostness and loneliness. Where our treasure is there will our heart be also – the place of happiness in the Lord, or hopelessness without him.