It’s What is Inside That Counts

The Pharissee who went up to the temple to pray was meticulously religious. He fasted, he prayer, he worshipped, he tithed. And he went to hell. Why did this super religious person go to hell?

The Pharisees paid great attention to the externals, to the outward keeping of the Mosaic Law. However, Jesus rebuked them for this:

25Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. (Matthew 23:25-26)

Theophan the Recluse (+1894) expressed it this way:

“People concern themselves with Christian upbringing but leave it incomplete: they neglect the most essential and most difficult side of the Christian life, and dwell on what is easiest—the visible and external. This imperfect or misdirected upbringing produces people who observe, with utmost correctness, all of the formal and outward rules for devout conduct; but who pay little or no attention to the inward movements of the heart and to true improvement of the inner spiritual life.” *

St. Macarios the Great (+392) said in one of his homilies:

“Within the heart are unfathomable depths. It is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there are poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are angels, there is life and the kingdom, there is light and Apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace. All things are there.” *

The spiritual classic titled “The Arena” by St. Ignatius Brianchininov (+1867) we read:

As St. Clement of Rome expresses it, we are all in the same arena and involved in the same struggle. St. Paul talks of having fought with beasts at Ephesus (1Cor.15:32), and while he may mean a literal fight against animals in an outward arena, or a fight against bestial beings (Acts 19), his words also have a symbolic meaning: the struggle is always an inner one. And in the arena where the struggle with the beast takes place is the unseen realm of the interior life. Such, then, is Bishop Ignatios’ basic theme: he tells us of the struggle to be undertaken by every Christian in the spiritual arena. He speaks to all, whether monks or not, explaining how we may tame, control and transform the beast within—the lions and howling wolves of our inner jungle—and so build in our hearts Jerusalem, the city of peace and unity.” *

In the story “Ninety-Three” Victor Hugo (1885) tells of a ship that was caught in a terrific storm. When the storm was at its height, the frightened crew heard a terrible crashing sound below. A cannon they were carrying had broken loose and was banging into each side of the ship as it tossed to and fro, tearing gaping holes in it with every smashing blow. Two me, at the risk of their lives, managed to secure the cannon again, for they knew that the cannon was more dangerous than the storm. The storm could toss them about, but the loose cannon within could sink them. Isn’t the same with our lives? The outside storms and problems aren’t our real danger. It’s the terribly destructive self, loose within us, that can send us to the bottom. Only a power greater than our own can save us from the wild enemy within us—our selfish self, our ego, our pride. That power is the Holy Spirit, the presence of God within us. *

It takes two things to blow down a tree: 1) a heavy wind outside, and 2) rot or decay inside. So it is with each human person. The winds of adversity may cause him or her to bend, but if that person is strong and vigorous within, he/she will rise and grow to new heights after the storm passes. *

If the greatest evil is to be found within us, the greatest good is also to be found there. “The kingdom of God is within you,” said Jesus (Luke 17:21). Jesus also said, 6But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matthew 6:6). God is to be found inside the closet of one’s heart through prayer and love. More often than we go to church, we need to enter the inner closet/church of the heart to commune with God. For the heart too, is a church with an altar before which we stand each day, pouring out our thoughts, emotions and experiences in praise to God. 4You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1John 4:4). *

St. Theophan the Recluse asks, “You seek the Lord? Seek, but only within yourself. He is not far from anyone. The Lord is near all those who truly call on Him. Find a place in your heart, and speak there with the Lord. It is the Lord’s reception room. Everyone who meets the Lord, meets Him there first. He has fixed no other place for meeting the soul of a person.” *

A little boy stood watching a release of balloons as they soared up into the sky. He was fascinated and asked the balloon vender, who was holding a red balloon, “Will that one go as high as the others?” The vendor replied, “Yes son. It will go just as high but not because of the color. Rather, it’s what’s inside that makes them go high.”

The Pharisee in today’s Gospel lesson was praying only with his body, only with his lips, not with his heart. But the Publican tax collector, who knelt down in the corner beating his chest saying, “Lord, be merciful to me the sinner,” was praying with both his body and his heart. *

The revolutions of the world throughout history try to destroy the outer evils of their rulers but they cannot touch the inner evil in a person’s heart. That is why they are doomed to failure. The only true revolution is the one instituted by Jesus Christ—the revolution of repentance. Only repentance can destroy the inner evil and create a new person, and through that renewed person, a new society, a new world. *

Jesus came into the world to cleanse the inside of each one of us. He came to make the human heart a throne for the King of Kings. He came to remake the human body into a temple for the Holy Spirit. He came to fill us with the fullness of God’s presence inside (Ephesians 3:19) so that when the pressures of life squeeze in on us, what spills out may not be bitterness but love, not hatred but forgiveness, not weakness but power. *

What life does to us depends not so much on external events but what lies within us. If God is in us, then, to use the words of St. Paul, 16Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day (2Corinthians 4:16). Keep God inside, and He will keep all evil, all temptations on the outside. Not all the water in the world can sink a ship unless it gets inside. If God is in our ship, in our heart, not only will He keep the water out; He will transform our heart into a temple, a church, where we shall be able to stand daily in the His presence, communing with Him and receiving from Him the power to be more than conquerors as we face the many challenges of daily living. * Amen!