Nothing seems more damning than hearing prophetic words from your own tradition marshaled against you. Is that how these Pharisees and scribes feel when Jesus quotes Isaiah to them, prefacing it with the label you hypocrites? These learned authorities are quite good at using Isaiah as a weapon against outsiders. But when Jesus reveals that they are the people the prophet describes as being far from God, that must have cut deep.
Are we any better? We too are great at honoring God with our lips while allowing our hearts to grow icy cold, hardened by misuse and the distance we keep from God’s renewing presence.
The truth of the matter is this: if their hearts are far from me, God doesn’t care so much about the words people pile up, one on top of another (v. 6). The honorifics and praises, the blessings and petitions, the invocations and oaths–all done in God’s name–become a heap towards heaven, the opposite of a sweet-smelling sacrifice.
In reality, honoring God with our lips but not our hearts indicts us as well as it does these religious legalists who surround Jesus. Multitudes honor God with their lips, I suppose. But finding a person whose heart is close to God is a rarer occurrence.
Wouldn’t it be something if we could start this day by softening our hearts in love and gratitude for God? By asking Jesus to abide in us so that we might abide in him? Only then could our lips honor God truthfully.
When we recognize a gap between the empty praises of our lips and the interior condition of our hearts, how might we close it?
May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you, O God. Amen. (Ps 19:14)