Rev'd Philip Heak
A man who had attended church for 25 years, a respected man, a leader in the church, came to the pastor and said, “Pastor, I’ve got something to tell you. I’ve never told this to a soul and it’s extremely difficult to tell you this now, but my wife and I have had a fight every day for the past 30 years of our marriage”.
The pastor was taken back, he didn’t know what to say to the man. Playing for time to gather his thoughts, he said, “Every day?”
“Yes, every day.”
“Did you today before you came to church?”
“Well, how did it end up?”
“She came crawling to me on her hands and knees.”
“What did she say?”
“Come out from under that bed you coward and fight like a man!”
Today’s gospel leaves many of us uncomfortable for one reason or another. It doesn’t come across as good news.
It makes us uncomfortable because we have what sounds for all the world like Jesus’ absolute prohibition of divorce. Many preachers would like to bypass this text on this day, preach on marriage only at weddings, and not have to talk about divorce at all.
That’s enough to cause us to squirm if we have a divorce in our personal background or as part of our family history.
The discussion gets started because some of the Pharisees are out to get Jesus. They want to trap him in his words and so destroy his credibility. So they ask him whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. (No, there is nothing about a woman divorcing her husband.)
Jesus knows this question is not an honest inquiry. These Pharisees are not interested in his opinion, but in testing him, defeating him
Jesus essentially turns everything on its head and says the real problem of the world is “Hardness of heart”. Hardness of heart is the problem not just for a few people, but for everyone.
Hardening, Hardness of Heart
To better understand the causes and solutions for a hardened heart, it’s important to appreciate the broad biblical meaning of the word “heart”. The Bible considers the heart to be the hub of human personality, producing the things we would ordinarily ascribe to the “mind”. For example, Scripture informs us that grief, desires, joy, understanding, thoughts and reasoning and, most importantly, faith and belief are all products of the heart. Also, Jesus tells us that the heart is a repository for good and evil and that what comes out of our mouth – good or bad – begins in the heart.
The heart, in effect, is the whole person in all of his or her distinctive human activity as a thinking, planning, willing, feeling, worshiping, socially interacting being.
And, of course, when the person is not living according to God’s will, it is the heart that is described as darkened, rebellious, callous, unfeeling, or idolatrous.
Anyone’s heart can harden, even faithful Christians’.
But “how does a heart become hardened?”
First of all, the heart “becomes hardened through painful experiences, through harsh experiences”. This is the situation of those who “have lived a very painful experience and don’t want to begin another adventure”. This is just what happened to the disciples of Emmaus after the Resurrection,
“‘There is too much, too much commotion, so let’s get away from here, because…’. — Because what? — ‘Eh, we were hoping this would be the Messiah, He wasn’t there, I don’t want to delude myself again, I don’t want to create illusions!’”.
This is a heart hardened by a “painful experience”. The same thing happened to Thomas: “No, no, I don’t believe it. Unless I place my finger there, I won’t believe it”. The disciples’ hearts were hard “because they had suffered”.
A second reason the heart becomes hardened is our ego. It’s when we “become closed inside oneself: making a world within oneself”. You know the legend of Narcissus who was so enchanted by his reflection in the water that he fell in and drowned. Work, play, hobbies, TV, parish life dare I say it – all of these and much more can lead us into a very introspective world, where there is no room left for anything except the self. Note that all of these things are good in themselves, but its easy to allow them to be the be all and end of all.
A third reason is insecurity. It is experienced by those who think: “I don’t feel secure and I am trying to hang on to something to be secure”. This attitude is typical of people “who really stick to the letter of the law”. This happens, with the Pharisees, with the Sadducees, with the doctors of the law in the time of Jesus”. They would have objected: “But the law says this, it says this up to here…”, and thus “they would make another commandment”; in the end, “the poor souls, they were leaning on 300-400 commandments and they felt secure”.
It is so easy for any of us at any stage to have a hardened heart.
In biblical terms the heart, in effect, is the whole person in all of his or her distinctive human activity as a thinking, planning, willing, feeling, worshiping, socially interacting being. All that we are comes from the heart.
Painful and harsh experiences, being caught up into our own world, and insecurity all contribute to our hardness of heart.
And when that happens we become locked in a virtual prison constructed in part of our past hurts, ego and insecurities. It’s as if we are a hose with a kink in it that only allows a trickle of water through.
But can our hardened hearts be softened?
The answer is yes, but through the Holy Spirit alone. The Holy Spirit can soften our hearts, allow the living water to flow freely.
Pope Francis wrote:
“You can take a thousand courses in Christianity, a thousand courses in spirituality, a thousand courses in yoga, Zen and all these things. But all of this will never be able to give you the freedom of the Son”. Only the Holy Spirit “moves your heart to say ‘Father’”; He alone “is capable of casting out, of breaking this hardness of the heart”
So I’ve tried to show that when the Pharisees attempted to trick Jesus with a question about divorce, Jesus turned everything on its head. He pointed to the real problem of the world – the problem is our hardness of heart. The solution is the Holy Spirit.
So, ask the Lord for the grace to love: that He “save us from the slavery of a hardened heart” and “lead us to that beautiful freedom of perfect love, the freedom of the children of God, which the Holy Spirit alone can give”.