1st Week OT (Th): Hebrews 3.7-14 and Mark 1.40-45
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory,
The hardened, unfaithful heart forsakes the living God. What does this mean? What is a hard heart? What is an unfaithful heart? Unlike leprosy, the hard, unfaithful heart is not a medical disease, not a physical condition; it is a spiritual malady, an injury to the covenant between child and the Father, a wreck made of one’s most loving kinship, one’s most desirous bond. An hardened heart cannot beat; a stone pumps no blood. Lifeless, rock-dead, a rigorous heart resists the pliant Spirit, repels the ointments of mercy and love, and fossilizes, grows moss and becomes the cold, moist home of worms and chittering beetles. In less colorful language, brothers and sisters, a hardened heart is deaf to God’s Word, mute to His witness, blind to His wondrous deeds, and numb to the fire of His love.
A stony heart can be made flesh again. How? “A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, ‘If you wish, you can make me clean.’” Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out his hand to the man and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Jesus wills that we be made clean. He wills that we be perfected, that we have bold, fleshy hearts pumping blood and Spirit, surging his Father’s love through the Body, pounding into the skeleton and tissue and sinew of his Church the truth of His power, the life of His Way, the health and wealth of His law seared into the muscle of our lively hearts. Be made clean.
And leap and laugh, rejoice and praise God and please, please, please: Look and sound healed! What does your scowl witness to? What does your gritted and grim frown say about the power of God to heal? How do we know that your heart is free when your face is trapped in a penitential grimace? When your words are sour and fuming? When your deeds are selfish and disobedient? The refusal of the Christian to be joyful at his/her redemption is a sacrilege, a willful failure to make one’s life a living sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit says, “Harden not your hearts in rebellion against my ways.” There is no rest for us there. There is no solace in resistance to the purifying fire of love. And there is no gain for the child of God in refusing to shine out His love, in failing to make one’s every breath, every move, every thought an act of thanksgiving for His mercy. I’m not saying you have to be a grinning idiot to be a good Christian. I am saying that your face, your countenance, your demeanor is a powerful witness to others. What are you saying about God’s presence in your life when you stand perfectly still, perfectly silent? Does a hardened, unfaithful face give voice to a hardened, unfaithful heart?
The healed leper is our saint to imitate! Without shame or hesitation, he begs Jesus’ mercy. He asks to be healed. He is made clean by Christ’s compassion. And what? He mopes around frowning? No! He “immediately publicizes the matter,” spreading abroad his healing at Jesus’ hand. In fact, his witness is so powerful that our poor Savior is forced to flee into the deserted places b/c “people kept coming to him from everywhere.” Driving Jesus into the desert! Now that’s good preaching!