Breaking Open Our Hardened Hearts

Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-5
Commemoration of the Miracle of Kollyva

Today we see an example of what can happen when religion goes wrong. The Sabbath had originally been introduced to benefit human beings and, as Saint John Chrysostom tells us,

…indeed, the Sabbath did at first confer many and great benefits; for instance it made them gentle towards those of their household, and humane; it taught them God’s providence and the creation as Ezekiel said; it trained them by degrees to abstain from wickedness, and disposed them to regard the things of the Spirit.

However, for the Pharisees described in this gospel reading, the observance of the Sabbath had become something with which to beat others up, while propping up their own feelings of self-righteousness. And, in their hardness of heart, they even invoked it to attack and vilify Jesus Christ. Saint John Chrysostom continues,

Note the tender compassion of the Lord when He deliberately brought the man with the withered hand right into their presence. He hoped that the mere sight of the misfortune might soften them, that they might become a little less spiteful by seeing the affliction, and perhaps out of sorrow mend their own ways. But they remained callous and unfeeling. They preferred to do harm to the name of Christ than to see this poor man made whole. They betrayed their wickedness not only by their hostility to Christ, but also by their doing so with such contentiousness that they treated with disdain His mercies to others.

As we continue on our Lenten journey, this gospel reading warns us to never lose sight of the purpose of our religious observances. If they are not making us more compassionate, then we are missing the point somewhere, for the true purpose of Lent is to break open our hardened hearts – to soften them and not to make them harder.

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The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-5:
At that time, Jesus was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch it out,” and his hand was restored.