The Limits of Sincerity

How would you feel if the best that could be said of you were, ‘Well, (s)he was sincere’? There is something midly dismissive about the phrase — meant well, you know, but never quite made the grade. That is not to denigrate sincerity, which is in itself a wonderful expression of that integrity of heart the prophets write about, but it is to acknowledge that sincerity by itself is not enough. It is necessary, but there must be something more. We can be sincere admirers of Jesus as a holy man, but that is not the same as recognizing him as Lord and Saviour and acting on his words.

Today’s gospel is an uncomfortable one for ‘professional pray-ers’ like me (Matthew 7.21–27). Monks and nuns spend a lot of the day saying, in effect, ‘Lord, Lord’, but Jesus is not content with our words, no matter how beautifully or sincerely uttered. There must be action, too, and that is where the difficulty lies. What sort of action? Very few find discipleship uncomplicated. Questions of right and wrong have a way of becoming more complex the more one thinks about them, and even faith itself can be distinctly fragile at times. We want to do the right thing but often end up doing the wrong one — or nothing at all. That is where I think the reading from Isaiah (Is 26.1-6) is helpful. There is a lot about trusting in the Lord, being steadfast, keeping the peace. Those unspectacular virtues have something very Benedictine about them. I’d dare to say that they have something very Christian about them, too, because they emphasize that whatever good we do is a work of grace, attributable to the Lord. He is the only real doer. Our problem is not getting in his way!

Most of us are not called to be heroes of faith like St Francis Xavier, whose feast we celebrate today, but all of us are called to fidelity in the duties of every day, to preaching the gospel through a life of good deeds and perseverance. We may feel that we are weak and wobbly, that we haven’t prayed enough or done enough, but that is to turn our gaze on ourselves in an unhealthy way. The Lord is our Rock. This Advent, let us build on him, for he will never fail or forsake us.

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3 thoughts on “The Limits of Sincerity”

  1. Thank you.

    I can recall the sincerity which at times disguised the insincerity of the heart and mind. As you rightly point out, it has to go far deeper and further. It needs to be in the Rock and the hard place and come through, possibly a little broken or vulnerable, but faithfully living out the Gospel that Jesus gave us.

    I’ve shortly to write an assignment on the Beatitudes – and so much material there to reflect on, and to pray that my academic interpretation might help me to capture that essence of truth in the passages, that Jesus gives us in guidance and for our obedience.

  2. Where we live, in the Canadian West, being referred to as “sincere” is a great compliment, equates with honesty. Here you’ll find significantly large contracts sketched out on a paper napkin in a bar, sealed with a handshake. This is still a place where a man or a woman’s word is inviolable. Loyalty to your brand (as in cattle ranching), sincerity, honesty, hospitality demonstrate how you live out these ideals.

    I think our notion of right and wrong are not too far off the mark upon first impression, but where discipleship becomes complicated begins where we attempt to scale back our response, whether in action or trust. I know that’s where I most often fail.

  3. The Bible readings challenge us to work hard for our faith. We can say “Lord” and not really understand the commitment. Perseverance: just keep trying! We are loved.

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