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Mark 3: Reflections on the callused heart

Hello persistent and loyal readers! Life has been catching up with me again and I have not been blogging. And for that reason I wrote up a little blurb on some of my thoughts from reading Mark this morning in my daily quiet time (in this case it wasn't terribly quiet, but it was time). I'm still working on getting Crescent Tides published, and am very excited about the project. We got the first proof copy in last week, so stand by for a fun story soon!
Mark 3:5: “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.”
This verse seemed to leap at me this morning from the pages of Mark’s narrative, with its dramatic descriptions of Jesus’ emotions. We’d do well to take careful note of what it is that is bad enough to anger and grieve the living God in this passage. Fortunately we’re not left to guess. Mark tells us that Jesus’ disapprobation was directed toward the Pharisees’ “hardness of heart.” The Greek word for “hardness” here is πώρωσις (pōrōsis). It denotes a callus over a wound, and is sometimes also used for stubbornness and mental dullness. The picture of callus fits well. Unlike healthy skin, a callus does not indent, it has no elasticity, and it takes great force to make an impression on it. So it is with a callused heart: it responds only to the most dramatic of stimuli. In this age of cynicism and selfishness, and that nihilistic despair grown up from the soil of Darwinian atheism, we do well to remember that hardness of heart is not a virtue. All too often in our culture we find soft hearts being denigrated as naïve, and hard hearts exalted as realistic or even funny. But a callused heart angers our Savior, and we Christians ought to be cultivating a soft heart – one easily impressed by the plight of others, as well as by moral ills.
We ought to be deeply and readily concerned with the plight of others. In this passage, the Pharisaical lack of concern for this poor deformed man in the synagogue is quite staggering. Charles Spurgeon points out aptly the attitude the Pharisees should have had, in his sermon on this verse…

The company that had gathered in the synagogue, professedly to worship God, would they not have special cause to do so when they saw a miracle of divine goodness? I can imagine them whispering one to another, "We shall see our poor neighbor restored to-day; for the Son of God has come among us with power to heal, and he will make this a very glorious Sabbath by his work of gracious power.” [1]
This is of course not at all what we read in Mark 3. Rather than showing any shred of concern for this poor man living among them with a withered hand – a malformation possibly causing him pain or social stigma, possibly keeping him out of a job and starving – the Pharisees stood back watching and hoping for a theological technicality they might exploit to punish Jesus. Their hearts were so callused they were more concerned with making a point than with a man’s sufferings. And this showed a hardness of heart in another way as well. They were far gone enough to completely miss the fact that Christ’s miracle (which they evidently fully expected to occur) proved His words to be true and their teachings to be morally flawed. They demonstrate heard hearts toward both the suffering victim and toward Christ’s teachings.  
In contrast, we ought to be deeply and readily concerned with the keeping and honoring of God’s law. We ought to be able to really say with David “I hate the double-minded, but I love your law… Depart from me evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God… My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words.” (Psalm 119: 113, 115, 139). 
This is why Matthew Poole, in his commentary on this verse defines πώρωσις in part:
“…that ill condition of the soul by which it becomes rebellious, and disobedient to the will of God revealed, so as it is not affected with it, nor doth it make any impression of faith or holiness upon the soul…”
We should be bothered by wickedness in ourselves and in our fellow earthly denizens. A soft heart demonstrates a love for God’s law and a grief to see it broken by anyone. This is both because trampling the Creator’s universal commands is ugly and an affront to Him, and because sin always damages people (either in their souls, in their bodies, or both together). A heart can be hard against God Himself, working out its callused nature in wicked acts that rebel against his good created order. A heart can be morally hard toward its fellow men as well, by ignoring the inevitable ravaging effects that rebelling against God’s good order will bring to them.
A hard heart shows up practically in a huge number of ways in sinful men and women’s daily lives. Some examples that come to mind are these:

  • Expressing a lack of concern when faced with others’ suffering (“serves him right,” “not my problem,” etc.)
  • Being too self-absorbed to notice the suffering of others, or to take an active interest in their well-being.
  • Greedily valuing things like money or pleasure, above the worth of other people, or of God himself (idolatry). Being willing to hurt others to get pleasure or riches.
  • Failure to listen to others or be polite.
  • Actively insulting others.
  • Failure to be gentle or kind to others.
  • Violence against others.
  • Demonstrating a lack concern for God’s plainly revealed law in our speech by doing things like taking part in lewd jokes at work, or ignoring wickedness when we should have said something about it.
  • More concern with a personal systematic morality than with God’s plainly revealed law (the important distinction here can be made by asking “is this my law inferred from God’s word, or is this a plainly revealed part of Scripture?”).
  • Pride (thinking I’m as smart as God himself, or of greater worth in some way than this other guy).
  • Ingratitude (toward God or toward other people).
You'll notice that these all seem to be variations of the two types of hardheartedness mentioned in the preceding paragraphs (hardness toward other people and hardness toward God).
Perhaps the remedy for a callused heart, then, would be keeping constantly in mind the two "greatest commandments" laid out by our Savior in Matthew 22:37-39:
"You shall love the Lord your God..."
                   "You shall love your neighbor as yourself..."
God, help us to bring our inward and our outward lives more into conformity with these golden commandments of love, and to cultivate a soft heart toward You and toward our fellow man!

[1]Spurgeon, C.H.  Sermon #1893. March 29, 1886. Accessed 3/31/16. 
Published inMusings

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