1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51
Our recent daily gospels have had Jesus’ critics contesting his or disciples’ actions. Today’s contest happens on the Sabbath and in a synagogue, a symbolic abode of Pharisees. This time Jesus takes the initiative, possibly because of the almost Orwellian way ‘they were watching him’.
The aim of Jesus’ question – “Is it against the law on the Sabbath day to do good, or to do evil; to save a life or to kill?” – is to get to the heart of the observers’ attitudes which Jesus thinks marginalising and demeaning. He challenges them on the true meaning of the Sabbath. Should it be mindlessly protected by regulation or is its purpose to foster rest and mindfulness to give thanks to God? They realise what Jesus was getting at, and so refuse to reply. He looks angrily round at them, the only time in Mark’s gospel where Jesus is said to be angry, angry and grieved at their hardness of heart.
Hardness of heart is not a failing peculiar to certain people two thousand years ago. This inclination is characteristic of our human personality. In our less worthy moments, we can have a rigidity of heart and mind, an unwillingness to move beyond the familiar and to think differently. Sadly, Jesus’ action of healing the man hardens their hearts even more, so much so as to lead to an unlikely conspiracy with their enemies, the Herodians.
How often do we allow our hearts to deceive us, to turn away from a compassionate response? Worse still, when under pressure do we co-operate intentionally or by omission, with those whose values and actions are contrary to our own?
John McGrath is a parishioner of St Brigid’s Marrickville.