Grieved by Hardness of Heart


Mark 3:1   Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.


Jesus had just been asked about his followers eating grain on the sabbath. The thread of conversation regarding the sabbath now continues has he enters the synagogue. The “they” present assumes the Pharisees who stood at a distance to see what Jesus would do. Jesus had just declared that the sabbath was for God’s people, not something to be protected by God’s people and that’s why this moment is so significant. The religious leaders are incensed by his attitude and they are determined to prove that Jesus is wrong. 

There is a man at the synagogue with a withered hand. The Pharisees knew their oral law regarding the sabbath, and saving a life was permissible, but they also believed that the man with the withered hand was not at the point of death, and that his healing could simply have awaited another day. Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking in the moment and so, before healing the man he placed questions before them. Instead of framing the question around life or death, he framed it in the question of doing good. They were caught, and they knew it. Instead of answering him, they just stood there, silent. 

This incident is unique in that Mark shows us the emotion of Jesus. He is grieved by the response of the religious leaders. How could they be so hard hearted? In trying to be “holy” they had become hard-hearted and lacked any sensitivity to the real heart of God and to the suffering of humankind. Chrysostom put it this way:

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. GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW, HOMILY 40.1.

Immediately the Pharisees went out and conspired with the Herodians. The Herodians were a secular party that supported the Herodian dynasty. The anger of the Pharisees toward Jesus meant that they were willing to partner with the secular and political forces of the day in order to rid themselves of him. 

Finally one becomes aware that the sabbath was not about a day in which not to work, but a time in which to do good. Jesus is reemphasizing what the sabbath is, rather than what it is not. Ultimately what the religious officials failed to see through their blinded envy and anger was that Jesus was fulfilling the intent of the sabbath by doing good and saving life. 


Somehow the Pharisees had gotten to the place where their hearts were hardened to the real truth of God. The story is filled with irony because those who thought that they were preserving the sabbath used the very day to go and plot evil. They, themselves became the ones to embrace murder on the day that was meant to bring life, all because their hearts had become hardened. 

When our hearts become hardened we continually distance ourselves from Christ. Throughout this whole section in Mark the Pharisees had gotten further and further from the heart of God and at this point, they exit the synagogue and go and join forces with the world. If we refuse to believe that knowing the heart of God and power of the Holy Spirit is enough to lead us as followers of Christ, we will go and unite ourselves to the powers and authorities of the world, thinking that we need some kind of external influence to make a difference. The problem is that we fail to see that true transformation happens in proximity to Christ. 

We cannot allow fear of keeping rules to become the barriers to ministry with the marginalized. We must be united with Christ, remaining near to him, and going with him into the parts of our world and communities that need him the most. The love of God must be shown to all of those with “withered hands” and broken hearts.  In this way we participate in the good of the sabbath and the gospel, bringing life, not death, and thereby fulfilling God’s intent of life in the kingdom. 


Lord, may I be your instrument of good and healing. Amen. 


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