In the 12th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes this statement. He says:
A good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, brings forth good. And an evil man, out of the evil treasure of his heart, brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.
There’s also this small quote, one of my favorites, from St. Macarius. He says,
The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there.
So I offer, this week, these thoughts on the place of the heart in our Christian life. Christ’s teaching on the heart points to it as the very center of our life. He does not describe it as inherently good or an inherently bad. Instead, it is inherently central. It is that place in the core of our existence from which all words and actions flow.
And so Christ tells us simply that if the treasure of our heart is good, it will be evidenced by the good things we say and do. And conversely if the treasure of our heart is evil, it too will be evidenced by the evil things we say and do. What we should take from this, is the realization that we are daily laying up treasure, good or evil, in the heart.
I recently gave some thought to St. Macarius’s saying on the treasures of the heart. That we find dragons and lions, poisonous beasts and all these things. And that we find God, the angels, the life the kingdom, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace.
Well my thoughts stayed with this imagery as I walked myself through the day. It was obvious that over the course of the day, I myself added to the treasures of my heart. And to some extent, others added to that treasure as well.
One image came to me, while driving on our busy freeways. In east Tennessee, it seems that our interstate highway system is in a constant state of “under construction.” At times traffic is heavy, too fast, and indeed frightening, especially if you add in cell phone usage and the like, as we zip along at freeway speeds.
But the image that came to mind was of cars barreling down the highway with dragons and lions and poisonous beasts pouring out the windows, as travelers cursed one another on their daily commute. Road rage is a common phenomenon all across the nation. I wondered how we would react if we could actually see these treasures of our heart, pouring out of our cars.
Well the same image could be applied across the whole of the day. For we are either bringing forth good, out of the treasure of a good heart, or pouring out dragons, from the treasure of an evil heart. And there was an additional thought. The nature of the heart’s treasure is that it is inexhaustible.
When we pour forth our treasure, we do not see it decrease. Quite the opposite. Dragons beget dragons. And in the same way, every act of kindness and every act of mercy does not diminish the kindness and mercy of our heart but multiplies them. Kindness begets kindness.
And so it is that over the course of everyday, we not only nurture the treasure of our own heart, for good or ill; we also add, or attempt to add, to the treasures of those around us. Some of the poisonous beasts, that I find within my heart, have been dwelling there a long time, indeed. Some were placed there, even when I was a child.
And so a significant question for all of us, on a daily basis, is: “What treasure do I share with others?” Meditating on such imagery should also drive us deeper to repentance, not towards guilt but towards repentance. What I am doing with the beasts that inhabit my heart, is an important question. Frequent confession, telling the truth about the state of my heart, is important.
But equally important, and perhaps even more so, is the attention we should give to the good treasures that are so often lacking. Every act of kindness, every act of mercy, every effort to forgiveness for everyone of everything, all of these things do not exhaust the heart, but instead store up good treasures in the presence of the good God.
Avoiding evil is an effort not to do something, and I always find that such efforts alone are very weak. The man, instead, who is busy being kind cannot be busy being evil. One of the powers of goodness is that it actually has substance rather than absence.
And so it is that St. Paul exhorts us and says, “Overcome evil by doing good.” It’s a way we have of saying, “Dragons depart.” Glory to God.