Connections 03.17.2024: Cleansed in Heart

Psalm 51

Are you wearing green today? This Saint Patrick’s Day tradition in the South that saved me from getting pinched during my school years. As a child, I thought this day was all about the color green, shamrocks, and leprechauns. History tells us a lot more. According to tradition, Saint Patrick was born in the fifth century in Roman Britain, kidnapped at age sixteen, and taken as a slave to Ireland. He escaped from Ireland but later returned and is known as the patron saint of the country, credited with bringing Christianity to its people. (“History of Saint Patrick’s Day”)

Over the centuries, Saint Patrick’s Day, observed on March 17, has become an occasion for parades, parties, feasts, and other celebrations. Since it occurs during Lent, tradition was to lift the Lenten restrictions on this day so that revelers could fully indulge. In my state of Georgia, the biggest Saint Patrick’s Day celebration probably happens in Savannah, where they dye their fountain water green and have an enormous parade. The parties got so big, in fact, that in 2021 the city made changes to the celebration, canceling the festival and encouraging visitors to patronize local businesses and restaurants. (“Saint Patrick’s Day in Savannah”)

It is true that drunken, irresponsible behavior is far removed from Saint Patrick’s sharing of Christian beliefs with the people of Ireland. Following Jesus is about humility, repentance, and love for God and others. It’s about having a clean heart, as the psalmist put it so many centuries before Saint Patrick was born. In Psalm 51, the speaker confesses his sinfulness, admitting that he has “done what is evil in [God’s] sight” (v. 4). He then prays that God will give him “a clean heart…a new and right spirit” (v. 10).

Imagine returning to the land of your kidnappers to share the gospel of Christ with them. It would take a lot of humility and Christlike love. Saint Patrick was not born a Christian. None of us are. But he encountered the love of God and made a choice. With a clean heart and a right spirit, he decided to share the gospel with the people who had upended his teenage life. What can our clean hearts and right spirits lead us to do for God?

Sources: History.com editors, “History of Saint Patrick’s Day,” History, October 27, 2009, updated March 4, 2024, https://www.history.com/topics/st-patricks-day/history-of-st-patricks-day.

“St. Patrick’s Day FAQs,” Savannah.gov, https://www.savannahga.gov/3670/St-Patricks-Day-FAQs.

Discussion

• What fun memories do you have of Saint Patrick’s Day traditions?
• Did you know the history of this day? How does the true story affect your perception of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations?
• When have you felt like the psalmist, consumed with guilt over your sin and ready to confess everything to God?
• How does God give us clean hearts and right spirits?
• What can we do with these gifts of grace so that others come to know Jesus too?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University (BA in English, 2000), has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theatre productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she always has one book going and several more waiting to be read!

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