“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with 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 out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” Mark 3:1-6
It seems remarkable, and profoundly sad, that those in the synagogue would care more about their rules than the man with a withered hand, and Jesus would agree. As He entered the synagogue, He was all eyes on the invalid. He sensed the Pharisees’ warped mental calculations, so after summoning the man to Himself, He inquired of them, giving them a chance to weigh their haughty reasoning against compassion. If they looked inside themselves, they might realize how rigid and legalistic they had become. If they looked at Him, they would see His kind care for the man with the withered hand. And if they looked at the man, and saw him as needy instead of an intrusion or a trap for Jesus, they might be sympathetic to his plight. But Jesus’s question appears not to have penetrated their hard determination; there was no softening, no seeing below the surface, no compromising their strict policies. They were indeed stuck in their mindset and ways, so they could not reply.
Jesus acted on His nature. Angry at their refusal to repent, grieved at their hard hearts, He spoke tenderly and authoritatively to the man, invited his faith, and healed his hand. The religious leaders, bound in legalistic traditions, blind to sentiment, callous to love, saw no freed, restored man, but only a broken rule. They moved from plotting to accuse to contriving how to destroy Jesus. Unbelievable!
But really? Are there areas in my own life where I have grown so stuck in my ways– habits, perspectives, routines, or rules of my making– that any missing, any transgressing, and crossing, any questioning, raises my ire? Where has rigidness blocked off empathy, narrow pursuit closed off an opportunity for kindness or a new way? Where has my preconception dulled my understanding of another’s story, my calculated answer refused another’s voice, my stubbornness grown to callousness, my self-tinted lenses blinded me to God’s higher view?
To beware this hard heart is to be self-aware, and cautious. It means being on the alert for signs of coldness, reactions that smack of legalism, callous comments or quick answers that interrupt or leave no room for discussion. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
Compassionate, gracious, and powerful Lord, I want a heart like Yours that beats with Your pulse.
“Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.” ~Frances Havergal (1874)