Mama always took us kids with her to buy groceries in the summertime. One particular grocery day, as we got home and unloaded all the bags, Mama realized she hadn’t paid. She hadn’t done it on purpose. The cashier never asked, so Mama hadn’t given her the money.
She could have kept that to herself, you know. Daddy was a telephone man and there were mouths to feed. She could surely have used the money, and no one would have been the wiser. There was no surveillance camera. There wouldn’t have been a Crime Stoppers ad taken out in the paper, or a Facebook post saying, “Do you know this woman and these children?”
But that wasn’t who she was. Without hesitation, she piled us all back in the car and we drove right back to Food Town on Randleman Road. We followed her inside, and Mama found the same cashier and said, “I’m so sorry. I forgot to pay for my groceries. Here is the receipt, and here’s the money.” I remember how Mama didn’t try to blame the girl. She took the responsibility on herself, and treated her with kindness and respect.
The girl immediately burst into tears and said, “I would have been fired. This is more money than I make in a week and I couldn’t have paid it back. I can’t thank you enough.” Mama patted her hand and said, “Oh now, don’t you cry. It was the right thing to do.” And with that, we went back home.
Honestly, she didn’t do it to teach us anything, even though it surely taught me a huge lesson. She didn’t even really discuss it with us. There was no speech on the way to Food Town: “Now you young’uns watch while I do a good deed here. Let’s see if the manager will give me some sort of reward.” She never even told the manager. She did it because who she was inside was reflected in her behavior.
So many times throughout Scripture, the relationship between the heart and behavior is addressed. Who we really are, what we think and feel, comes out in how we act and how we treat others.
At first glance, what Jesus says in Matthew 5 can be a bit confusing.
27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
21 You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather someone be mad at me than murder me, and I’d rather my husband commit adultery in his heart than have a physical affair! You probably would too. However, there’s more to it than just our behavior. Jesus wants to change us from the inside out.
When we take a careful look at what He’s saying, we get the deeper meaning. He’s trying to teach us where murder and adultery starts — in the heart and mind. And He doesn’t just mean murder and adultery, but every other mean and terrible thing we can do to people. He might as well have said,
If you are greedy and selfish in your heart, you have already stolen a buggy full of groceries from Food Town.
Maybe you’re thinking you wouldn’t steal a buggy full of groceries and get a cashier fired, but there are other things in our hearts that cause us to hurt people. We say mean and hurtful things, and we do it because that’s what we’re thinking. Oh we try to excuse it with, “I didn’t mean that,” but most of the time what we mean is, “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”
Here in the South, we try to soften it with, “Bless her heart” so it doesn’t sound so harsh. We can say anything in the world as long as we tack that phrase on the end. “Her buck teeth are so bad she can eat corn through a chain link fence . . . bless her heart.” See how that works? We can say we’re “kidding”, but I guaran-daggone-tee the girl in question is in dire need of orthodontic work, and she knows it.
Until your heart is changed, your behavior won’t change. Not for long anyway. You can try to keep it hidden, push it down, cover it up, and white knuckle your way through behavior modification. If you’re mean spirited, everyone around you knows it. Here is why, and you can quote me on this,
What’s in the well comes up in the bucket.
Every. Single. Time. You might can fake it for a while, but who a person really is eventually comes out. Just give it some time.
We can all be that person like Mama — the one who does the right thing even if no one is looking. We can be kind to people, not out of effort, but because it’s natural. Thankfully we don’t have to do it alone. We have some Help. We can take our cold, selfish hearts and turn them over to a God who is in the heart changing business. He tells us in Ezekiel 36,
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
He will do it because He doesn’t want to just change your behavior. He wants to change you on the inside. He wants what’s in the well to be so much love, that when it comes up in the bucket, it will overflow to everyone around you. That’s the only change that will last.