By Anna Murphy
Lectionary reading for 12/07/2022: Psalm 21; Genesis 15:1-18; Matthew 12:33-37
Selected passage for reflection: Matthew 12”:33-37
Matthew 12:33-37 Message Version
33 “If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit. If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit. The fruit tells you about the tree.
34-37 “You have minds like a snake pit! How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded? It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words. A good person produces good deeds and words season after season. An evil person is a blight on the orchard. Let me tell you something: Every one of these careless words is going to come back to haunt you. There will be a time of Reckoning. Words are powerful; take them seriously. Words can be your salvation. Words can also be your damnation.”
In this digital age, where we observe life in tiny sound bytes and highlight reels, the polarizing power of words and outward appearances has become increasingly influential.
With filters and photoshop, it’s maybe easier than ever to project a pretty picture with the perfect caption.
And yet, this is not a new concept. I remember even as a child every year my mom would dress the family in coordinating outfits for the church directory, receiving our very own Olan Mills frameable copy. Whether it was my mom instructing my brother to “stop gritting his teeth and smile naturally,” or me melting down because one of my brothers had hit me (read: inadvertently bumped into me), these family photos typically involved some choice words and scuffling about that was conveniently not listed in the description.
Although these church pictures represented only a moment in time, the extent to which we use and view social media has developed into essentially streaming a curated version of our lives moment by moment.
This is the philosophy I believe Jesus is addressing here in Matthew’s gospel. His frustration and harsh words are to the Pharisees, a group of religious leaders at the time who were known for their strict observance of and adherence to the law. Essentially they’re insta profiles are flawless. They were posting all the right captions on their pictures that were edited to show the “holiest” moments – but Jesus is not satisfied with their performative hashtags or even their scripture memorizations… He knows what’s going on behind the screen.
“It’s your heart, not the dictionary that gives meaning to your words.” In other words, put your phone down and take a look around at the life you are actually living. What is going on behind what you are neatly displaying for the world to see? How is your heart? God doesn’t want some edited down facade of closeness– God wants a real, intimate relationship.
As a response to the reading today, I encourage you to take a break from whatever space you feel a need to present anything other than the truest version of yourself. Maybe that’s social media, a relationship, a hobby… I don’t know what it is for you, but I do know that you are worthy, capable, and loved from the inside out- not the other way around. In this season of preparation, maybe we can use the next few weeks, one week, or even a few days to examine our raw, unedited hearts and the fruit it is producing.
Join me in a prayer of daily examen
Breath deeply. Know that you are in God’s presence. God has been with you in every detail of your day. As we prepare to reflect on the day, let us ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what they would have us see. Inhale. Exhale.
Give thanks. Every good thing is a gift from God. Even the small things in our day like seeing the clear blue sky or a kind smile from a stranger. Allow gratitude to draw you in to your day.
Review the day. Think back over your day- who you were with, where you were, what you did. Even the smallest details. Recall the sites, sounds, and conversations. What enlivened you in your day? What discouraged you? Give your attention to those moments and offer them to God.
Face the places where we fell short. Reflect on the moments you felt disconnected. Do you need to offer or ask for forgiveness? Look to God for guidance.
Look ahead to tomorrow. What are you looking forward to? What concerns you? Ask God to open your eyes, ears, and heart to where God might be working. Remember that God, again, will be present in all tomorrow’s moments– big and small, guiding you in your life.
About the Author
Anna Murphy calls Richmond, VA home - although she has a passion for people and experiences from all over the globe. Her mission is to participate in the resurrection of dead things coming back to life and has the privilege to take part in that daily as the manager of a substance use recovery program. Although she has a deep love for running and the spiritual parallels it provides, most nights Anna can be found getting her miles in running around the house after her spirited cat, Lucy.