By Liz Harden, Leeds Vineyard
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates to even dividing soul and spirit, joints, and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrew 4:12)
I love this verse. I’ve found myself pondering it a lot this year. I love it because spending time at The Lantern you hear people say all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Much of what they say is unfiltered and can be unpleasant or confusing, but I am constantly learning to listen with the ears of Jesus to the heart of the person.
Not to listen to outward words and expressions that can be offensive and non-sensical, but to listen to the pain, the disappointment, the injustice, and the rejection behind them. When you get past the words, you can get to the root of what is behind them; and respond with Jesus’ compassion. Offense will always result in taking us off into a relationally damaging tangent of focusing on behaviours rather than the heart, and if we focus on the words others speak, we will miss what is going on inside them.
Matthew 12:34 teaches ‘Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.’ But in the same verse Jesus has just called the Pharisees a ‘Brood of vipers.’ Jesus is hardly kind and gentle in his use of words in highlighting the evil of their hearts. His words are shocking.
We mis-apply the word of God to get the outcomes we want. We are so quick to try and control others behaviour and mute what we don’t want to hear, but don’t address the attitudes of our own heart.
I’ve been journeying with God about understanding neurodiversity and specifically researching how neurodiverse people are treated in the church. I was particularly drawn to the application of Matthew 12:34 to them and discovered many have been victims of being judged wrongly. The verse taken out of context judges the outward expression and doesn’t look to what is behind.
The neurodiverse, which many complex adults are, will be less filtered, more impulsive, more direct, and often more honest in what they say as they have less ability to smoke screen what they feel. What they say is often perceived as offensive, less considered, sometimes rude or aggressive, outrageous even, and sometimes painfully blunt. But Jesus wasn’t speaking to the neurodiverse or those berating out of a sense of injustice or pain. He was talking to the Pharisees, full of pride, hypocrisy, and snobbery.
Those who used their silken well-chosen words to lead others astray and secure their own influence. Those who in their piety and privilege kept the poorest, most broken, mistreated, downtrodden, and overlooked from the good news of God’s salvation and healing.
I love that God’s word reads hearts. No matter our outward words, how dysfunctional or well-oiled and kindly they appear, the word of God is piercing, healing, and revealing, penetrating, and discerning our attitudes; and exposing of our falsehood. Let’s be slow to make assumptions about the source of people’s hurtful words and quick to draw them closer to Jesus whose words will shine light on their heart, understand their pain and have compassion on them.