RCL Year B, Proper 17
Deuteronomy 4:1-2 and 6-9, Psalm 15, James 1:17-27. Saint Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, and 21-23
When the Anglican Church was being separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, Queen Elizabeth I was quoted as saying that she “didn’t want to build a window into men’s souls.” She wanted outward conformity to The Book of Common Prayer from those who planned to kill her, because they thought she was an illegitimate monarch. She also wanted outward conformity to The Book of Common Prayer from the radical Protestants who thought her reforms of the church didn’t go nearly far enough. And from all concerned, she wanted her kingdom to be free from all treasonous acts. She wanted proper behavior, and not a “window into men’s souls.”
At first glance she sounds like the Pharisees in today’s Gospel who complain to Jesus because his disciples do not conform to their rules and regulations. But in leaving a man’s soul to himself and to God, she is more like Jesus who wants human hearts to be close to God—Elizabeth didn’t try to interfere with that. She left it open how men and women were to commune with God in their hearts. Let them use the Prayer Book and make no violent acts against her person, and she was happy. That left open the most important thing, according to Jesus. It left open listening to God, which is what true worship is. We pray to God using the Prayer Book, but we listen to God with our hearts, which no one can violate.
We offer to God true and laudable worship, and we leave our hearts open to him, that’s the Christian life. Elizabeth knew that true religion wasn’t just outward conformity. It wasn’t just playing the game or mumbling the words. It wasn’t just clever arguments or opinions. True religion always comes from the simply listening to God, and accepting the voice of God as the direction of our lives.