“WHAT MAKES YOU MAD?” (Mk 3:1-6): 23 January 2008 (Wednesday)

“WHAT MAKES YOU MAD?” (Mk 3:1-6): 23 January 2008 (Wednesday)

Today’s Readings

In the gospel story today, the Lord does something he rarely does:  He gets mad.  He meets a man with a withered hand.  Moved with pity, our Lord decides to heal the man’s hand and to free him not only from the physical pain, but also all the psycho-emotional suffering that the handicapped among us are made to bear.

But there they go again: The Pharisees, fixated with their law of the Sabbath, criticize Jesus for healing a man with the withered hand.  To them our Lord says not without exasperation:  “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”  In other words, “Come on, guys!  You must concede that it’s good to help someone on the Sabbath?!”  When the Pharisees don’t respond, we’re told that our Lord “looked around at them with anger.”

Jesus, angry?  It’s an idea we’re not exactly used to, thanks to all the images of Jesus “meek and mild” in almost every stampita and statue we see around us.  So the question I’d like to ask the Lord today is:  “What makes you mad?”

We know how compassionate and merciful the Lord is, so it must take a lot for him to get angry.  What does it take to make him mad? The only other time in the gospel we’re told that Jesus actually gets mad is in the episode known as the “Cleansing of the Temple.”  There he drives away the money-changers and vendors because their transactions–certainly including unwholesome ones–are a desecration to what should be a holy place, “a house of prayer.”

But Jesus’ anger in today’s gospel is a far more frightening one.  It’s almost a quiet rage.  And the gospel gives us the reason:  He “(was) grieved at their hardness of heart.”  After all, the Lord confronts them with goodness–his desire to help a man in need–but they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that and prefer to pay lip service to the Sabbath, that much-revered Jewish day of rest, where no work is supposed to be done.

The Pharisees and scribes watch him closely, holding their breath, like hunters waiting for their prey to fall into a trap.  Nevertheless, Jesus does perform the healing, and he does so knowingly and freely.  As he heals the man’s withered hand, his enemies huddle closely together, nervously clutching their withered hearts.

What is so ironic—and also so sad—about this scene is that while he is able to heal the man’s withered hand, he seems quite helpless and unable to heal his enemies’ withered hearts.  One can’t help but ask:  Why doesn’t Jesus heal the withered hearts of his enemies so that they too may open themselves to his light?  Or, could it be the case that he can’t?

If we look around us today, we see the suffering of so many.  Many of these pains are the result of people’s withered hearts, hearts that have shriveled up because of excessive love of self or excessive hatred of others, and so they hurt other people.  And again we can’t help but ask:  Why doesn’t God just heal all our withered hearts once and for all in order to eliminate all the heartaches and tears caused by the wickedness of people?  Could it be the case that God cannot because he isn’t powerful enough to do that?

Theologians and mystics tell us that of course God can, but for some mysterious reason, he chooses not to be that powerful.  He chooses not to intervene too much with the human heart.  For if he were to do so, human freedom would disappear; it would be dissolved altogether.  For there to be authentic human freedom, God cannot touch human freedom even if there is perhaps nothing more that he desires than to show and give Himself completely to us.

This tells us something very important about the Christian image of God:  The God that Jesus reveals to us is a God who loves us dearly, and a God who wants nothing more than to give us a share in his life—but he will never force himself on us.  If you remember that fairytale about the three little pigs, God will never be like the Big Bad Wolf who will huff and puff to blow our house down just to get in.  The most he will do is to invite us to let him into our hearts.

Lest we forget, what makes the Lord mad actually makes him sad.  When you think about it, only the things–and the people–that mean a lot to us, after all, have the power to anger us. And here, nothing means more to our Lord than to heal his enemies’ withered and hardened hearts.  Again and again, he has knocked on the doors of their hearts, hoping that they will grant him permission to enter.  But they have only again and again refused him.

Holman Hunt’s painting of “The Light of the World” illustrates this great mystery:  Jesus is shown knocking on a door, lamp in hand, but the door has no visible lock.  It is the door of the human heart, and the door of our hearts can be unlocked only from the inside. The Lord can bring his light into our hearts only if we ourselves open the door and let him in.  Until then, all he can really do is wait.

(image:  Holman Hunt’s “Light of the World”)

Now, here is a Quick Question for YOU:  “Are you, by any chance and for any reason, keeping the Lord waiting?” Think about it, and feel free to share any thought, feeling, or question.

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