In his chapter “Mere Christianity,” where he talks about moral choices, C. S. Lewis tells us that “…every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before” (71). But the problem for Christians is that we can also make external choices, ones that don’t touch “the central part” of us at all. Criticizing the Pharisees and scribes on this very hypocrisy, Jesus quoted this from Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (NRSV Mark 7:6).
In other words, we can force our exterior actions (most of the time) to conform to the human standard of goodness, but that doesn’t mean our hearts are any closer to wanting that goodness. That is why the beatitudes are so challenging. They are defining internal choices, the kind that change “the central part” of us into “something a little different from what it was before.” And so, for me, the most difficult choices are not the public ones but the private ones, the interior ones that God sees. Long before they might become visible, meekness, mercy, and poverty of spirit must imprint our soul, the “central part” of who we are.
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