Lessons: Ephesians 41-7, 11-16; St. Mark 6:45-52
“for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
It’s not a head problem, it’s a heart problem. And the problem with the heart is that it has been hardened. And just in case you don’t think that is possible, I remind you of the recent video of the Planned Parent doctor talking about different ways to kill an unborn baby to successfully harvest the organs, all while she is sipping on wine and eating a salad. She is a doctor so she has to be a brilliant person. But it’s not a head problem, it’s a heart problem and only the Lord knows what has happened to her heart to harden it so.
So yes, it is very possible to suffer hardness of heart. In fact when you read the prophets you learn that an entire nation suffered from it. But the remarkable thing about this passage in the Gospel is that it is not referring to an abortion doctor or to the ancient Jewish nation. It is referring to the disciples. They were the ones with the hardened hearts. What makes it even more remarkable is that at this point we are over a third of the way through the Gospel of St. Mark. They were hand picked by Jesus and had seen him heal multitudes, cast out demons, calm a storm, raise Jarius’ daughter from the dead and feed well over 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. But still their hearts were hard and so their understanding was limited.
While I have seen a few healings and a demon or two cast out, I have never seen a storm calmed, someone raised from the dead or thousands fed. And most importantly of all, I have never seen Jesus. So what is the possibility of me having the same malady as the Apostles? I would say that is a constant threat to which I need to be vigilant and protect myself. I strongly recommend that you do as well.
As we consider what we need to do to protect or address hardness of heart, let’s also consider its causes. The most obvious one being pride. God used another part of the body to describe Israel’s hardness when He called them a “stiffed neck people.” That is such a clear image of someone just consumed with pride.
We all know folks like that. You can’t tell them anything, there is not a topic of which they are not an expert, and anyone who disagrees with them is seen as an idiot. If you don’t know anyone like that then you may want to ask someone who loves you a lot if it is you.
There is a more subtle form of pride that also hardens the heart just as surely as the arrogance that I just described. The person who comes to mind when I think about this kind of pride is the professor on Gilligan’s Island. Most of you know that the characters on that show were patterned after the 7 deadly sins. The Skipper is anger, Gilligan is sloth, Ginger is lust etc.. Well the professor was pride. He was a very likeable figure because his pride was in the form of self-reliance. If they needed a tool or a special kind of widget he could take a coconut or a fern and make it happen. He rarely asked for help and he believed that there was nothing that he could not figure out eventually.
Of course there is nothing sinful about being intelligent or handy or even self reliant to a degree. But how often do we try to handle things on our own without first going to God and asking for His wisdom and grace? How often do we treat the Lord as the last resort rather than the first? When you think about it you must conclude that is a form of pride. A person who is totally self-reliant is rarely one is led by the Spirit and that is because there is too much flesh in the way.
So what is the answer? How do we keep our hearts from being hardened by pride? I want to be clear that St. Paul is not addressing that question in our readings today; nonetheless I believe that we can draw from his wisdom and make an appropriate application.
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called with all humility and gentleness.” What is the calling to which we have been called? It is to follow Jesus and become like Him who did not come to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. St. Paul, the prisoner in the Lord, certainly saw himself as a servant. He calls himself so in many of his letters. How does being a servant keep us from pride that hardness of heart? Because a servant, as St. Paul says, has humility and gentleness. These two qualities are the opposite of pride. To boil it down pride focuses on self while servant hood focuses us on the Lord and others. That is how we keep our hearts from hardening.
A second way that our hearts get hardened is when they are broken. You hope and trust and believe and then something happens to break your heart and you decide somewhere deep inside to never hope and trust and believe again so that you are never hurt that deeply again. This pattern happens to us romantically, it happens with people that we thought were our friends, it happens within families. But it can also happen in our spiritual lives. Proverbs tells us “Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick.”
I wonder if one reason that the people of the Old Testament suffered from hardened hearts was because they longed and looked for the Messiah for so many centuries and were disappointed so often that they just found it easier to no longer have hope. God tried to tell them through the prophets not to lose hope but they did not listen to the prophets. So their hearts became hard and when the Messiah finally did come they did not understand it was He. As with the Apostles the condition of their hearts affected their understanding. It was not a head problem it was a heart problem.
St. Paul gives an answer to the Bee Gees question, “How do you mend a broken heart?” He says, “with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Again he is not addressing our question but we can draw from the truth proclaimed. It is love that heals a hardened heart.
But note that St. Paul is describing here the real thing and not a feeling-based love that some have called “sloppy agape.” He says that we are to exercise patience, that we are to bear with one another, that we are to make every effort to maintain unity. This sounds like work and it is because genuine love takes a lot of work. It is not just a pile of emotions.
I can bear witness to this. God has sent people into my life at times when my heart was hardened and they loved me, they were patient with me and I’m sure even had to talk themselves into bearing up with me, but that kind of love broke through to me. It really does work.
Also I want to point out that this passage, calling us to love, is in the context of the Church. How do we come, as he says, “to maturity, to the measure and full stature of Christ.”? It is through the Church the Body of Christ. If Christ is the Head and we are all individual members that make up His Body, how can we possibly come to maturity by ourselves? We cannot, it is impossible. An amputated part of the body does not grow, rather it dies.
Why do I bring this up? I bring this up because I am meeting more and more people who consider themselves Christians but have no Church or consider it of low priority. Some are even using the term “Christ Follower” to distinguish themselves from members of the Church. What they are saying is that they want to follow Christ, they just don’t anything to do with His Body, regardless of the fact that it is Christ’s Body. These are some seriously confused folks. You cannot accept the Head of the Church but reject the Church. You cannot call Him “Lord” and reject His ways. The caution that they need to hear is that Jesus said that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” would enter the kingdom of God.
I parked behind what I supposed to be one of these Christ Follower folks the other day. I had to stop and take a picture of the two stickers that they had on the back of their car. The first sticker said, “Christ Follower.” The second sticker said, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” How can you possibly put those two ideas together? Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde. This leads me to my third point.
A third way that our hearts are hardened is through deception. To be honest I almost left this third point out because I was concerned that I would lose credibility with some for these next comments. But I decided that the risk is worth it because I believe the danger is that great.
In John chapter 8 Jesus calls Satan “the father of all lies” and Jesus says to those who are opposing Him, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.” These leaders went on to be the puppet masters that influenced the crowd to go from crying out “Hosanna” to crying out “Crucify him.”
You may disagree with me and even consider me a conspiracy nut but I believe that the Scriptures teach that there are principalities and powers that control some very powerful human puppet masters throughout the ages whose goal it is to deceive as many of us as they can into fulfilling their agendas and ultimately into carrying out their father’s desires. Some of these human agents may not even be aware of the powers that are controlling them but the Church needs to be.
Various tools are used to disseminate the lies and the lies are told so often and in so many ways that they first desensitize us and then they deceive many of us. Often the lies begin with comedy. Look back and history and see how the Nazis used cartoons and sarcasm against the Jews. Why did they do this? Tell enough jokes about the Jews and after awhile you no longer see them as humans. That is the first step in the Final Solution.
Other lies are told under the guise of the State looking out for what it best for us. It is not God who knows what is best it is the State. We just need to go along and shut up. That is how Communist countries enslaved and even murdered millions.
Other lies are told as if they are being reported as genuine news. The Germans were at least honest enough to have a Minister of Propaganda. We call ours ABC, NBC and CBS. If you think that you are being given unbiased news then please hear my wakeup call. They seek to influence and control what you think, even at the beginning of the process by what they choose and don’t choose to report on. That is why you have to go to the Internet to find out that thousands of Christians are being martyred around the world while the mainstream media wants to have you outraged over a TV show. No one ever thought to be offended by the Dukes of Hazard until they told us that we should be. I take that back. The acting was pretty offensive but you get my point.
Let me go back to the Planned Parenthood doctor. Surely she did not decide when she was 9 years old that she wanted to grow up and traffic in human organs. She was deceived. She had to believe a lot of lies before she could be so hardhearted that she could have such a discussion over lunch.
The lie propagated by the media is that it’s not a human being it is a “fetus.” This lie she believed in spite of the fact that every time you allow a fetus to come to full term you end up with a human being…not a puppy or a gerbil but a baby. She also believed that women should have rights over their own bodies. We can agree with here there except when it is taken further to say that she has a right over an unborn child’s body. She has no rights over another’s body, including her unborn baby, except to steward and love it.
I could go on for hours about how lies are being disseminated but my point is that there is a grave danger of being deceived by these lies. And these lies have an extremely negative impact upon our lives as individuals and upon our society.
And it is important to understand that there are powers and principalities behind these lies so that we don’t make our warfare against flesh and blood. Do not, do not, hate the Doctor. Love and pray for her because she has been deceived. Save your righteous anger for the powers that deceived her.
What is the answer to a heart hardened by deception? It is the truth as taught through the ages by the Church. St. Paul says, “We must no longer be children, tossed to and from and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together….. promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
It is important to see that this text connects “truth” and ‘love.” We are to speak the truth in love and the truth builds up the Church in love. For many years it seemed like our culture and the Church were on parallel paths, sharing similar values and goals. But as our paths are going increasingly in divergent ways, it is important for us as Christians to be determined to walk in truth and in love. This will keep us from being deceived.
If you know me then you know that I am not into end times stuff. I’m that classic panmillennialist who believes that all of it will pan out in the millennium. Even so as I see the culture going one way and the Church another I go back to Jesus words in Matthew 24. “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” It is by being bathed in the truth and walking it love that we will not have our love grow cold but we will endure to the end.
If the apostles had a hard heart so can we. We need to be vigilant to protect our hearts. It’s not a head problem it’s a heart problem and that is why we ask Jesus to come and make His home there. Amen.