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. Matthew 12:34-35
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.
St. Macarius (H.43.7)
More 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 inherently bad. 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’ saying on the treasures of the heart – that we find dragons and lions, poisonous beasts, etc., and that we find God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace. My thoughts stayed with his 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 that came to me was travel 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 frightening (especially if you add in cell-phone usage and the like as we zip along at freeway speeds). 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 the “treasures” of our heart pouring out of our cars.
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.
There was an additional thought. The nature of the heart’s treasure is their inexhaustibility. When we pour forth our treasure we do not see its decrease. Quite the opposite – dragons begat dragons. And in the same way, every act of kindness of mercy does not diminish the kindness and mercy of our heart but multiplies them. Kindness begats kindness.
And so it is that over the course of every day 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 – placed there even when I was a child.
And so a significant question for all of us (daily) is: what treasure do I share with others?
Meditating on such imagery should also drive us deeper into repentance (not guilt, but repentance). What am I doing with the beasts that inhabit my heart? Frequent confession – telling the truth about the state of my heart is important. But equally important (perhaps moreso) is the attention we should give to the good treasures that are so lacking. Every act of kindness and mercy, every effort towards forgiveness of everyone for everything, does not exhaust the heart but stores up good treasures in the presence of the good God. Avoiding evil is an effort not to do something. I always find that such efforts alone are very weak indeed. The man 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 St. Paul exhorts us, “Overcome evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21).