Thursday, January 11, 2007

Thursday in the First Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Affairs of the Heart

Readings: Hebrews 3:7-14; Psalm 95:6-7c, 8-9, 10-11; Mark 1:40-45

O that today you would listen to his voice! ‘Harden not your hearts’…

For the last couple of days we have been attending to how Jesus experiences and responds to different temptations. To the temptation to escape the messiness of human life, Jesus responds by embracing the fullness of human existence. To the temptation of clinging to the gifts of God, Jesus responds by clinging to his heavenly Father, the giver of all good gifts. Today, our readings focus our attention on the heart.

Harden not you hearts… But what does this mean? Surely we are respectable people. We don’t have hardened hearts

Yet we know there are different ways of being hardened. Sometimes it’s a matter of taste. It’s like how the person who is used to drinking tea with sugar will find unsweetened tea tasteless. Or how a person who is used to very salty food finds anything less salty bland. Similarly, we can coarsen or even deaden our taste for the things of God by over-indulging in material, secular, even sinful things. There is also the hardening that results from trauma. It’s sort of like when we get a cut and a scab forms over the injury to protect it. But the scab also has no feeling. Similarly the pains and disappointments of life can cause us to form scabs over our hearts that prevent us from feeling the touch of others and of God. Then there is the hardening that comes with prejudice. For example, we may grow up being taught that all Malays are lazy, such that even when we are grown up, our eyes are blind to the diligence that any Malay might exhibit. Or, because of what’s going on in the world around us, we may think that Islam is a religion that only teaches violence, and that all Muslims are violent fanatics. And our hearts are hardened to the good that is found in the Islamic faith and its adherents.

In contrast, Jesus shows us in the gospel what it’s like to have a heart of flesh. By any account, he should have rebuffed the leper’s request. People were taught in Jesus’ day, even by the Law, to treat a leper as an outcaste . Yet Jesus is moved with pity for him and even touches him.

But we must not be mistaken. The gospel is not just presenting Jesus as a model for us to follow. Indeed, how many of us will find Jesus’ example easy to emulate? Rather, I am that leper. Just as the leper’s affliction affects his capacity to experience sensations, so too does my hardened heart disable me and prevent me from exercising my spiritual senses. Like the leper, I need humbly to kneel before the Lord and beg him for help. And we are confident that Jesus will heal us, that he will replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. After all, does his compassion not lead him to take upon himself the consequences of the leper’s illness? While the leper is re-integrated into society, Jesus could no longer go openly into any town. We need to throw ourselves before the mercy of the Lord. We need to ask him for hearts capable of hearing God and feeling compassion for others.

How is God healing our hardened hearts today?


  1. I wish there was some way for these reflections to reach young Priests in Africa, who want to give good sermons but who find it difficult. It would be good if the reflections could be given a month ahead, so these good Priests have time to prepare. This feedback was given to me by an Irish Priest in his late 50's now ministering in Kenya.

    Jacquie Webb

  2. Perhaps this is what I term as being "immuned" just like how when we see "bad" news being reported everyday in the papers that it slowly becomes just another "statistic"...nothing "bad" seems to be a surprise anymore...

  3. There's actually already a whole host of homilies helps available on line. Here's a sample:

    Hope this helps.