Singleness of Heart – Br. Lucas Hall

Br. Lucas Hall

Matthew 5:21-37

I moved into the monastery on January 9th, 2017, about a week and a half before the inauguration of the current president. Several friends told me I was very lucky, as they couldn’t imagine a better time to enclose oneself away from the troubles and instabilities of the world, insulated from a constant torrent of news coverage.

They weren’t completely wrong. But I must confess, I speak today from a place of intense distraction, here in the midst of the longest and most stressful election of my lifetime. But it’s not just the fault of the media. Nobody requires me to have multiple tabs open on my computer, reading through various news sources, then, when I get to the end, going back to the first and refreshing the page, “just in case.”

No, the voracious consumption of this stuff is a symptom, not a cause. An unending appetite for junk points to a deeper dissatisfaction, deep-seated feelings of powerlessness, anxiety, isolation, confusion, frustration. I think our culture right now is very prone to this. And maybe your “junk” is not election news. Maybe it’s news about the coronavirus. Maybe it’s not news media, but the endless stimulation of social media. Maybe it’s work, ceaselessly giving yourself external tasks to complete. Or maybe it’s more embodied; maybe it’s alcohol, or porn, or literal junk food. It doesn’t matter. Maybe I didn’t list yours here, but there are myriad varieties of this experience, and I am convinced that they come from the same source of division, dissatisfaction, and a desire to be comforted in our inmost fears.

There is a word in Aramaic, the language of the Israelites at the time of Jesus: ihidaya. It is most simply translated as “single,” but it has a broad scope of meaning. Christ, the only-begotten, is the true Ihidaya. Those who wait for him, putting aside the temptations of idols, are ihidaye. In the Church’s call to participate in this waiting, we too are, collectively and individually, ihidaye. The term would quickly be applied to monasticism, with an understanding that the chief purpose of monks is – in celibacy and a single-minded, whole-hearted devotion to God – to remind the Church of this call to be ihidaya. Single, one, whole-hearted, clear-minded; this is a big word. And when I hear Christ’s words from our Gospel reading today, these varied meanings come together in a grand, unified vision.

One meaning that is clear in Jesus’s words is his prioritization of our hearts, our inner lives, our inmost beings. Christ calls us to a quite ruthless self-examination, a regular interior clearing out of that which is not holy. We are prone to build up idols in our hearts; these vary in each of us, which I think is what leads to the wide variety of things that tempt and distract us. We each have our inner wounds, and nurse those wounds, often in ways that do not lead to genuine healing. Jesus highlights anger and lust, that is, hatred and desire, two sides of the same coin, both of them fundamentally rooted in objectifying others. When we objectify others, we deny the presence of God within them. When we build up our idols, whatever they are, we do not devote our hearts wholly to God. It is on this basis that Jesus proclaims elsewhere that the whole of the Law and the Prophets is to love God with our whole hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Christ appeals to the laws his audience already knew, prohibiting things like adultery and murder. But he argues that these are not just a list of particular elements, some formula to follow. No, in Jesus’s view, the law was given for our sake; we do not exist for the sake of the law. The prescribed actions of the law are not complete in themselves. Rather, they are complete not by standing alone, but by being the fruit of inner love, a heart fully engaged in the love of God and neighbor.

It is when we cease to trust in this love, when we neglect the fullness and oneness of our hearts, that we begin to trust in outward action and stimulation that will justify ourselves. We see some church steeped in performative holiness codes, particularly around issues of sex and gender. We see others equally steeped in performative holiness codes around issues of social and political justice. It’s not that holy action is wrong; Jesus isn’t saying, “Oh, it’s mine to murder a guy, you just can’t hate him.” Of course not. The issue is not action itself, but action misused to build a sort of moral resume, a checklist by which we judge ourselves and others to see who is really holy. This, Jesus argues, is utterly backwards. We cannot satisfy the needs of the heart with outward things. It is the heart devoted to God that produces the fruit of holy action.

Earlier, I said that no one requires me to keep checking the news. That’s true. But it is also true that wealthy and powerful interests in our society spend huge amounts of time and money to tempt, cajole, and psychologically manipulate us into giving them our attention, all for the sake of profit. Our single-minded attention is a precious thing these days.

“When you bring your gift before the altar and remember that someone has something against you, first leave your gift, and go, and be reconciled with them, then come back and offer your gift at the altar.” This is the basis of the act in the liturgy we will soon participate in, the sharing of the peace. “When you bring your gift;” we don’t have much to offer. We don’t have heaven or earth or Jerusalem or our own heads. They’re not ours. What we do have is the attention and intention of our hearts. That’s our gift. When we bring our hearts, whole and undivided, to the altar, and offer them to God, we participate in Christ’s self-offering, abiding in him as Christ abides in us.

Support SSJE

Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.

Click here to Donate


  1. Bobbi on March 24, 2022 at 13:19

    Thank you, Br. Lucas, for your profound insights into human nature.

  2. Br Scotland Gallo on March 24, 2022 at 13:09

    Thankee, Brother, for this. I’m not sure I can fully articulate how necessary this was to read today, like throwing wide the window on a stale, locked attic room.

  3. Sue on March 24, 2022 at 12:25

    Thank you, Br. Lucas! On Ash Wednesday I added cleaning out junk to my Lenten discipline, so your comments are right on target for me. Not only has this been a great spiritual help, but it also gets my mind off of chocolate because I can’t eat chocolate until Easter.

  4. Melissa on March 24, 2022 at 11:22

    Thank you so much for this great sermon. I am always trying to simplify away from “junk” even as bright shiny things grab my attention.
    “We are prone to build up idols in our hearts; these vary in each of us, which I think is what leads to the wide variety of things that tempt and distract us.” This is so true, and thanks for calling attention to the tendency we have of filling our old wounds with low quality fillers. It makes me think of scurvy, when old wounds open due to lacking the necessary nutrition.

    The word “Ihidaya” caught my attention while I was listening to the recording. It must be the same word as “Echad” which is so vital to the Shema. Adonai eloheinu, adonai echad. A definition of God as One, the One God, Our One Lord God. Primary and Whole. It’s a great word! and great to know that it appears in the naming of Jesus as the Only Begotten. 🙂

  5. Jack Connelly on March 24, 2022 at 09:43

    This topic would make for an excellent retreat-time to take inventory of all the junk and build a do-able action response to each with prioritization. Becoming single minded/hearted being the goal.

  6. Jane Dowrick on March 24, 2022 at 06:05

    Bless you, Br. Lucas, for this very helpful and for me so timely message as I try to meet the challenge of each day, sifting through the junk, not only from outside of my sphere, but the junk, of the type that can be both seen and unseen, I seem to pile up around me.

  7. Laurel on January 23, 2021 at 12:15

    Sometimes it seems like prayer is not enough. But thank you for reminding me that that is what God wants, my attention and intention. I find that distractions of life may keep the pain at bay but they also keep the joy away. I will often say I’m just tired so I want a distraction forgetting that I can just rest in God.

  8. John McDargh on January 23, 2021 at 11:05

    I found myself while contemplating this very subtle and layered (and vulnerable ) sermon being reminded of a line from one of those Christmas carols we have only recently been singing. Your sermon Brother Lucas opens up new layers of meaning to what it might look and feel like to offer one’s heart …” thank you…

    “What can I give him, poor as I am?
    If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,
    If I were a wise man I would do my part,
    yet what I can I give him, give him my heart:,

  9. elizabeth wright on January 21, 2021 at 09:51

    This is really wonderful – intention & attention. “Our single-minded attention is a precious thing these days.” – How beautifully and simply you suggest how much we really are offering when our sought after consumer attention (and intentions) shift to empty-handed, open-hearted intention and attention at the altar. Thank you Brother Lucas.

  10. James Rowland on February 25, 2020 at 08:01

    Thank you, Br. Lucas for a message of timely power. “—and be reconciled with them—“, this alone and above all else must counter the junk of everything self indulgent arriving daily.

  11. Mom ???? on February 21, 2020 at 19:03

    Thank you for your insight Br. Lucas!
    I agree and I’m there with you! So, so much junk. Pulling me this way and that. Filling my head until it’s overflowing. Causing me anxiousness, frustration, confusion, anger, panic, the list goes on and on! And with all that junk coming at me, it’s extremely hard for me to clear my head and keep my eyes on the prize! But that’s just it! … The one single thing that can clear all the crazy away is just that, “the prize” the one and only Jesus! He can calm me in a heart beat, and all I have to do is ask. I need to thank him for that. I need to stay more focused on keeping Jesus in my head and in my heart! ????❤️????

  12. Julie Huff on February 21, 2020 at 06:17

    Oh brother Lucas, so on point. Distractions of every kind pulling our attention from our First Love. But, if we’re listening He’s right there calling us to bring our focus back on Him. He’s full of mercy, grace and forgiveness and I am so thankful He loves us that much! For a week straight while reading His Word, I was given ponder the paths of your feet, consider your ways and then boom, last Sunday the whole sermon was for me…in His great love to sum it all up in my words, He told me to stop. Seriously, He’s the BEST and the BALM! The Holy Spirit worked in me so well. Oh yeah I wrestled and I may now walk with a limp, but I know that I know – God is for me. Thanks for your confirmation!

Leave a Comment