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The Remedy for a Hardened Heart

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“Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” ~ Charles Dickens

Once again Jesus is embroiled in a heated exchange with the Pharisees in today’s Gospel (Mark 3:1-6), as the Divine Physician heals a man with a withered hand, doing so on the sabbath. This was prohibited due to one of a vast litany of ancient judiciary ordinances, ordinances that always trumped any situation, even one such as today’s. Jesus launches the first salvo, for he knew what they were thinking.

“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Jesus poses this question to the ordinance-obsessed Pharisees in his midst, to which they remained silent. Jesus in turn looks at them with anger, for he grieved their hardness of heart.

The word “Pharisee” means separated one. Perhaps scrupulous one could also apply in this instance. In todays passage, Jesus attempts to define the very purpose of the law but the Pharisees, due to their hardness of heart, were not at all receptive to this teaching, a teaching that would’ve profoundly transformed them. In fact the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, having already inherited an unwieldy and cumbersome judiciary infrastructure, took it upon themselves to add an additional 613 ordinances to the books. But this shouldn’t really surprise us. As we learn from Hebrews (7:28), “…the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests.

Although it’s hard to fathom the actualwithholding of healing from a man who suffered from a malformed and largely unusable hand for his entire life merely to uphold a law, we all at times exude hardness of heart. It’s part of the human condition, our concupiscence. We become tired, disillusioned, wary, beleaguered or perhaps we’ve simply “heard it before.” Despite our best efforts to imitate Jesus, who never withheld healing despite being inundated with thousands of petitions, in our human weakness we simply come up short. American theologian R.C. Sproul offers an interesting take on this. He says:

“Loving a holy God is beyond our moral power. The only kind of God we can love by our sinful nature is an unholy god, an idol made by our own hands. Unless we are born of the Spirit of God, unless God sheds His holy love in our hearts, unless He stoops in His grace to change our hearts, we will not love Him. To love a holy God requires grace, grace strong enough to pierce our hardened hearts and awaken our moribund souls.”

In Ezekiel 36:26, God makes this promise: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Only unconditional grace can transform a hardened heart into a grateful heart. Only a merciful act of love by God the creator can fashion a new creation, one capable of love. As theologian Karl Barth puts it, 'As the beloved of God, we have no alternative but to love him in return.”

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Although it is true that the Catholic faith is by the strictest definition a religion, it is more a relationship between God and man. God instituted this relationship on earth to reverse the effects of the fall, which was brought about by pride, a deadly sin which always rears its head amongst those with the most hardened of hearts. This relationship is meant to bring man into a state of far deeper intimacy with God. We are called to shed our hard heartedness and as we do, we inch closer and closer to attaining a foretaste of the heavenly glory and perfection that awaits.

We are here on this Earth for no other reason than the fact that God loves us and willed us into being. Riddled with sin, flaws, and defects, God nonetheless delights in our company. He loves us as we are, but this is not to say that he doesn’t want us to turn away from sin and be transformed by his grace. God’s unrelenting and untiring grace is the remedy, the only remedy, for a hardened heart.

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