Two empty hearts


Beware too much of a good thing. When the Israelites are about to cross over into the promised land, they are warned not to let the abundance harden their hearts: “lest, when you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses and lived in them,…you then become haughty of heart and unmindful of the Lord” (Dt 8:12-13). There is danger even in blessings.

A heart may be burdened by bounty. The mind may be forgetful when fruitful. This happens repeatedly in scripture (as well as today). It happened to King David in our first reading last weekend (2Sam 7-10, 13).

In that scene, Nathan the prophet is sent to indict David: “you took his wife [Bathsheba] as your own, and killed him [Uriah] with the sword of the Ammonites.” The charge is crushing. David is an adulterer and a murderer (and God has seen the whole thing). Note though, before the charge is issued, there is a list of David’s blessings. He has been anointed king of Israel. He inherited the king’s lands. He has control over Israel and Judah: “and if this were not enough, I could count up for you still more.” These goods are meant to excite David’s contrition. But they are also part of the problem.

By the accumulation of goods, and losing sight of God as their origin, David becomes “haughty of heart and unmindful of the Lord.” His wealth, and the consequent self-reliance, alienates him from God and neighbor. He “has it all.” But the result? He commits adultery and murders his own soldier. So much for the self-contented heart.

The opposite dynamic was present in the gospel last Sunday (Lk 7:36-8:3). There, we encountered a sinful woman bathing the Lord’s feet with her tears. This is a poor woman. Sin is the one great thing she owns. Her heart is not filled with blessings, but debt. She does not have houses and territory. Rather, she lives in memories of offense. She is far from self-satisfied. She has nothing she wants to keep. Instead, she empties her heart at the Lord’s feet, and receives the greatest blessing in return. She is forgiven.

King David had a heart full of possessions, and so it was empty. The heart of the sinful woman was emptied of its guilt, and so it was full. Forgiveness does not clutter the heart like fine foods and great dwellings. Forgiveness is not possessed. It is pure grace. Still, the sinful woman is not impoverished by mercy. She becomes rich. Her heart, cleared from guilt, is now filled with love. The one who is forgiven much loves much. So it is with the contrite heart.

Father George K. Nixon serves as assistant pastor at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Ordained in 2011, he holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. “Verbum Domini” is a series of Father Nixon’s reflections on the Scriptures.