“Wither whitered Hands/Hearts? ”Thursday Meditation. 4/30/20. Alan Neale. Trinity Church, Newport, RI
3 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Though Jesus had bested the religious leaders convincingly arguing/stating the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath; they still cannot surrender to Jesus – his person, his word, his truth. And, forgive the imagery, once again they climb into the theological boxing ring expecting against all odds and sense that this time they will succeed… alas for them it’s another convincing theological and pastoral knockout.
This morning I want to share a few observations about Jesus, the religious leaders and the man.
Jesus! Jesus refuses to be compromised and contained by his enemies. He knows their hearts, he knows they are looking to condemn. It seems we’re back in the arena of the man let down through the roof earlier in Mark. Did Jesus then add physical healing to spiritual healing because of the Pharisees? In this story, did Jesus call the man forth because of their scrutiny? A question never to be answered this side of the grave. But note Jesus refuses to be bullied, circumscribed, contained by their meanness; this would a surrender to gross abuse. Though later Jesus accepts the call, volunteers to surrender; he is never a victim. This evil, wretched virus makes most of us feel our options are few if any; Jesus offers each of us an option to reach out, make contact and be healed.
Note also that Mark describes Jesus as “angry” and “grieved”. The image of Jesus as meek and mild may find a place where there are infant minds and hearts, but it is not an image that an adult should entertain. This “anger” of which Mark speaks suggests a swelling, a rising from an ongoing fixed opposition; this is no sudden outburst, a sort of emotional blackout.
Jesus then, and now, exhibits a fierce opposition to anything that demeans, dehumanizes, debases, degrades and He calls his church (you and me) to feel and act likewise. Statements that certain parts of our nation are suffering disproportionately from this wretched virus should call from us all fierce opposition and a commitment to right an obvious wrong. And “grieved”? Well, only Mark uses this word… of course He is grieved because he experiences, confronts the loss of pastoral concern that should have been in the hearts of his opponents. It seems that Jesus never took their “hardness of heart” for granted, that there was always an element of surprise and disappointment. This is an example for us all never to become inured to evil – complacent and compliant.
The Pharisees? When Mark writes “they watched Jesus”, he uses a word that suggests “watched closely, observed scrupulously with great personal interest, wanting to ensure a final success”. Here they are… in the presence of their Messiah, the Anointed One, the Lord of Life whose teaching is capturing and empowering the crowds and yet their minds are closed and their hearts are hardened. “What’s in this for me? How can I achieve my own personal goals?”. Friends, the Pharisees exhibit the most awful condition “hardness of heart”. The word suggests a callous, obtuseness, a kind of marble – insensibility, numbness, deadness.
From hardness of heart, as people and churches and nation, good Lord deliver us. When we refuse to reach out yet again to an alienated friend or family member… beware, this may increase hardness of heart. When we close our eyes or turn away from social and economic injustice, beware, this may increase hardness of heart.
But now consider and compare the man with the withered arm. His sickness (hardness) was of the body not the spirit. In the presence of Jesus and at His word the man stretches out his arm… doing what had not been done for ages. The word suggests he cast forth as an anchor, yes he was looking for solid ground, for a safe harbor and this he found in Jesus.
As our Litany reads
“From hardness of heart
Good Lord, deliver us”
Thank you, Alan. In our attempts to deal with evil, as I believe we should, what might be the best descriptive response? Instead of hardness of heart, could it be firmness of conviction with a warm open heart? Minor point to be sure.