Fr. Michael warns about the difficulty of keeping our hearts tender and open to love one another, even when we are hurt by those whom we love. He urges us to live lives of righteousness and peace.
Jesus entered the synagogue.
There was a man there who had a withered hand.
They watched Jesus closely
to see if he would cure him on the sabbath
so that they might accuse him.
He said to the man with the withered hand,
“Come up here before us.”
Then he said to the Pharisees,
“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”
But they remained silent.
Looking around at them with anger
and grieved at their hardness of heart,
Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
He stretched it out and his hand was restored.
The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel
with the Herodians against him to put him to death.
Live Tender-Hearted Transcipt
There are many stories of miraculous healings at the hands of Jesus in the gospel. But none perhaps more strange than this account that is in Mark 3 that you just heard. So often Jesus praises the faith of the person who is being healed. And in at least one or two instances, Jesus praises the faith of those who bring the individual to Jesus.
But in this case, it’s not the faith of the individual nor is it the faith of their friends, and Jesus performs this miraculous healing with a certain amount of anger and frustration at the hardness of heart on the part of the Pharisees. Jesus’s Ministry is about doing good, is about reaching out and bringing God’s grace and mercy in a visible way into the world.
The Pharisees who should have known better—who are the religious teachers of the people—are intent. They are looking for any opportunity they can to find fault with him and they pick on the letter of the law. They accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath, of not following the law by doing this Good Deed.
Then what’s even more strange at the end of the readings after Jesus performs this miraculous healing in defiance of the anger in the Pharisees’ hearts, the Pharisees go out and they take counsel with the Herodians who were their bitter enemies. The Herodians were those who sided with King Herod, cooperating with his rule, which had nothing to do with religious righteousness. The Pharisees and the Herodians were bitter enemies, but they became allies in their common hatred of Jesus. Because of their jealousy, because Jesus threatened their power.
This bitterness of heart in the part of the Pharisees, I suspect it is easy for us to look down our noses and to say well, “I don’t do that.” But we want to say, “Let’s be a little more slow in that regard.” It’s so easy to let our hearts become hardened.
I was talking to a gentleman on retreat not so long ago who was telling the story of a family member who had hurt him deeply. And he had recounted the hurt to his wife and his wife shared in the hurt. Then he said, “I’m through with them. I’m not going to have anything more to do with them. I’m writing them off.”
And I knew this man. I know this man. I know him to be a devout Catholic, a good man a man who’s sincerely trying to advance in virtue and I said, “Well that would be fine if you weren’t a Catholic and you weren’t a Christian, but you’re a Catholic and you are a Christian and I totally get it that you’re having a hard time forgiving this family member because they hurt you deeply. We don’t get over those hurts easily, but you can’t simply stand in that place and say, ‘They hurt me and I’m not that forgiving. I’m just going to stay in that place and write them off. I don’t want to have anything more to do with them. They’re dead to me.'”
I said, “If you were a pagan, that would be fine. But you are a Christian and you’re a Catholic. And so you have an obligation to say, ‘I’ve been hurt deeply. Lord, you’ve got to help me because my heart is hardening.'”
Otherwise, we’re no better than the Pharisees. The Pharisees looked at Jesus they saw him as a threat. They saw him as a lawbreaker and so they wrote him off and they said, “Let’s kill him. Let’s get rid of him.” Let’s recognize that it’s so easy for all of us to fall into that same place.
So I gave what I thought was a pretty good counsel to that person who came to me. And then a friend of mine hurt me. And then I am feeling all of these feelings of: “I don’t want to have anything more to do with that individual. They really hurt me deeply. They accused me unjustly.” And all of these feelings are welling up of, “Well, I don’t want to have anything more to do with that person. I’m just going to write them off.” And then in the back of my mind was my wise counsel to the friend who came to me and I’m saying, “Wait a minute. You just can’t write them off.”
So I’m praying to forgive that person and then these feelings well up again, and I let it go and then I’m feeling very peaceful. And then the feelings well up again, and I’m letting it go and I’m feeling very peaceful and then the feelings come up again.
I recognize the deeper the hurt the harder it is to forgive. These feelings keep coming up again and again and again as I’m sure they did for the Pharisees. The Pharisees didn’t think of themselves as bad people. They thought of themselves as religious people; as righteous people. Jesus was the law breaker. And so they were justified in their feelings of hard-heartedness.
In our first reading today we hear from the letter to the Hebrews with this commentary on Melchizedek. He’s a mysterious figure who just shows up in the first few verses in the Book of Genesis. And as the commentator says in the book of the Hebrews, we don’t know anything about Melchizedek. We don’t know where he came from. We just know that he showed up and that he offered bread and wine and he blessed Abraham.
But the commentary in the letter to the Hebrews says the name Melchizedek means Righteous One. We know that he was the king of Salem. We’re not sure exactly where Salem was. But Salem means Peace. He was a king of righteousness. He was a king of peace and he offered bread and wine and he blessed Abraham. The commentator is talking about Jesus who is this great high priest and by extension all of us share in the priesthood of Christ and we’re called and this is the point to share in the righteousness and the piece of Melchizedek. As we offer this bread and wine back to the Father in the name of Jesus. We enter into this Eucharist so that our own hard-heartedness, our own lack of forgiveness, might be turned around.
Isn’t that why we meditate on these scriptures? Isn’t this why we gather at this holy altar because we recognize how difficult it is for our own hearts not to become hardened. Because the reality is we hurt one another. We don’t intend to hurt one another but we do. We step on one another’s toes. We get in one another’s ways.
And unless we’re very, very careful. Even for good folks who are devout, who come to Mass often, our hearts become hardened. They are hardened toward our fellow Christians, hardened toward family members, hardened toward friends, and especially hardened toward those who don’t think like us.
Why are we here today? Why are we meditating on these words? Why are we receiving Holy Communion? Let’s recognize, we’re in this process of being transformed. We’re not there yet, but we want to get there. Let’s keep knocking on Heaven’s doors and saying, “Lord, change my heart. Soften my heart. Give me a tender heart. I want to share in your priesthood. I want to be like Melchizedek: righteous and peaceful. Especially as you transform me through this Holy Eucharist.”