Posts Tagged ‘hard heart’

Acts 18:18b
…before he [Paul] sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken.

There is a small difference between taking a vow and making one. I believe taking a vow is accepting an existing agreement such as taking a vow of celibacy (how that is done is already established). While making a vow is something you create yourself, like making a vow to stop or change a particular behavior.

In modern times, more and more couples are “making vows” (that is, they are creating their own marriage vows) as opposed to taking on a traditional vow. In an age of casual divorce, many couples remove the “til death do us part” bit. It’s easier that way.

In ancient times, vows were serious business. There was often an outward sign that a vow had been taken to alert the community (like the cutting of hair). These practices may have served as another form of accountability for the person making the vow. Historically, the wedding ceremony was similar: a public voicing of the vow and then a symbolic exchange of rings to signify the vows were made and accepted.

But the seriousness of vows has been lost in our age. We have softened vows into “promises.” And somehow, promises hold less power and are often broken. How often do we say, “I promise … I will …” and then don’t. There is no apparent result. There is no cost.

I maintain there is a cost however. The cost is within. Broken promises break the heart of the one to whom the promise was made and hardens the heart of the one who made the promise and broke it. The effects of broken vows is even worse.

If a vow is made before God, then the breaking is not only between the people, it’s a triad vow and includes God in the mix. Broken vows give pain to God as well.

Keep me mindful this day of my words and thoughts. Oh God, keep me in the circle of your covenant with me.

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Acts 16:33
At that hour of the night the jailer took them [Paul and Silas] and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.

When the jailer accepted the word of God that Paul and Silas shared with him, his eyes were opened and with those open eyes came compassion. Paul and Silas were no longer just prisoners but injured men who needed attending. Before that, the jailer had been complacent.

I wonder how often I have missed human need and suffering because of a callous heart. I drive the same streets every day. I walk the neighborhoods. I go to the same grocery store and eat at the same restaurants. Am I looking and not seeing?

Martin Buber spoke eloquently of man’s ability to look at “the other” without seeing in his book, I and Thou. Am I looking at other as “object” … as an “it,” or as a person … a true “thou.”

William Shakespeare captured this idea slightly differently (but effectively) in the Merchant of Venice through one of the speeches of Shylock: “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?” [Act III, sc 1] Replace the word Jew with “the poor” and you get the idea.

The jailer could not do much. He couldn’t free Paul and Silas, he couldn’t change their circumstances, but he could give a small comfort: he could wash their wounds.

When I see poor and wretched souls, I become numb with the enormity of their deprivation. What can I possibly do? Perhaps it’s only the small act that needs doing in the moment…. washing wounds by listening, touching, asking, engaging, feeding, sharing. Perhaps I should stop worrying about what I cannot do and simply do what I can do.

I have heard it said that we can never “out give” the poor. Their need will always be greater that our ability to meet it. This sentiment reverberates in Jesus’s own words: “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want…” [Mark 14:7a]

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