“Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” The gospel then says, “But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.”
Image by Ronald Plett
By Lou Occhi
To prepare for my reflections, I review the first reading, the psalm and the gospel. I normally look for a hook that triggers a thought I can talk about. I read Zachariah and got nothing. The psalm had some possibilities, but not very exciting. Finally, I get to the gospel. Wow, four whole sentences. When that happens, I usually read a little before and after what is written in the gospel. No help there. My only hope was to dig something out of the four sentences.
What caught my eye was that Jesus said, “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” The gospel then says, “But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying.”
For some reason, we cannot hear what we don’t want to hear. This is expressed numerous times in both the New and Old Testament as “Their hearts were hardened.” When someone is talking to me about something I disagree with, my mind wants to go into rebuttable mode or simply shut out what I don’t want to hear. It takes an act of courage to stop thinking rebuttal and listen.
The phrase regarding the hardening of hearts is a bit confusing. Sometimes God hardens their hearts. The gospel says “its meaning was hidden from them so they should not understand it.” Other times hardening of hearts occurs due the stubbornness of people. In Isaiah 6:10 God tells Isaiah, “Blind the heart of this people. (They) make their ears heavy and close their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and then I would heal them.”
One of the most well-known incidents of hardening of hearts is in Exodus. God hardened Pharos’ heart so that he would not let the Israelites go free. In fact, the Pharos was so hardened that he made the Israelites work harder and punished them more severely. Why would God do such a thing? I think that the Israelites were adjusted to living as slaves and may not have left if the Pharos had not inflicted punishments on them. God knew it was time for the Jews to go. Who are we to question God’s ways?
In the New Testament, Jesus expresses his sorrow over the unbelief of his people in several instances. The most touching to me is in Matthew 23:37, where Jesus laments over Jerusalem, saying “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing”. Here, we see that Jesus was not the Messiah they were expecting and would not accept Him.
Another example is in John 12:37-40, where John quotes from Isaiah 53:1 and says that although Jesus had performed many signs and wonders, but the people still did not believe in him. John then explains that this fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy that the people’s hearts would be hardened and they would not understand.
Looking back at these biblical incidents, I can see how my heart could have been hardened. In the case of the Pharos, I could see how the Pharos would have reacted when Moses tells him to let his people go. The Jews were his major source of labor. Losing them would have made things very difficult for him.
Many of the Jews during Jesus time were expecting a Messiah that would come and conquer those who had taken over Jerusalem. This, in spite of the fact that the Old Testament described the Messiah in opposite ways. In some places the Messiah is described as a suffering Messiah such as in Isaiah 53. In other places, the Messiah is described as a conquering Messiah in the line of David. What was not clear is that the Messiah would come twice. The first coming was for the atonement of sins. The next time it would be as the conquering Messiah.
Unfortunately, we haven’t learned much since Jesus came the first time. We still harden our hearts. We love to hear or read about those we agree with. In a similar way, we frequently refuse to hear an opposing point of view. Look at the division in this country. There seems to be no compromise on any issue. Worse yet, this problem is not isolated to this country. It is a global problem. Here we are, the most advanced civilization this world has ever seen, yet we cannot agree on what a woman is.
No doubt, we all have spiritual and social beliefs we strongly hold. I admit that I have my own hardened of heart causes. The point is that we have to be able to hear other points of view and attempt to understand why they feel that way. I have to be able to listen to what is being said. When they are finished giving their point of view then I can express my point of view. Who knows, perhaps we will come to some sort of consensus. On the other hand it is possible that neither of us will change our beliefs. In the end, the most import thing is that we will remain friends and perhaps become better friends.
Remember that the word devil derives from the word division. Our goal, regardless of our beliefs and convictions, is to live our lives as our Lord has taught us. We should always strive to love one another. The problems in the world should never shake our faith and crush our hope.