Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17
"Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out and his hand was restored." Mark 3:5
The other day, I was having lunch with a religious. We do not know each other well, but well enough to join other religious for an occasional breakfast after Sunday Mass. Our conversations range from everything religious to sports and weather. This time, someone mentioned the political posturing that was taking place over social issues, such as the "Dream Act," (an immigration issue), giving the uninsured a chance at insurance and helping those who suddenly find themselves jobless and even homeless. Some of us were surprised at the reaction this religious had to these issues. He thought that the Federal Government should not get involved in the personal lives of other people, even though they were suffering and unable to resolve their situations by themselves alone.
As a member of the Passionist General Council, I have had an opportunity to travel around the world. I see suffering and poverty in such places as Mexico, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Africa, and Papua New Guinea. I believe that we can look at suffering and hopelessness by either being compassionate or by hardening our hearts. The more compassionate we are, the more involved we become in trying to respond to these enormous challenges, sometimes one person at a time. The more we harden our hearts, the less responsibility we take for the pain and suffering that exists around us.
If we harden our hearts, we find it difficult to offer life-giving solutions to those who are in need. And we are less likely to get involved in resolving these sufferings. In today’s Gospel, this attitude of hardness of heart was being solidified in the Synagogue, the place where the Word of God was read and an instruction on the meaning of that Word was given. In this Gospel passage, we see a familiar drama played out: the Pharisees harden their heart against Jesus because he wanted to heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, and the compassion of Jesus as he encountered personal suffering. Jesus did not only become very sad at their reaction, but he also became angry at the Pharisee’s attitude.
I believe that these Scriptures should lead us to ask ourselves, do we make Jesus sad and angry with our attitudes, especially with our attitudes toward those who are suffering greatly and do not know how to resolve their suffering? Sometimes, we can take approaches like "tough love" to mask our hardness of heart. We are there for the "deserving" poor, but our heart doesn’t ache for those whom we think deserve their lot in life. And like the Pharisees, we want these solutions done in the proper way.
It is much more difficult to be Christian these days, not because we are afraid to say the "right thing" but because our lack of compassion distances us from those who find themselves in need. We can always come up with laws, norms and regulations why we should not reach out to those in need. On the other hand, we can become more like Jesus, whose heart is being continually moved with compassion when he encountered great pain and suffering. To be a Christian today is not just about being able to say the right thing, but to love and heal as Jesus did, to have a loving, compassionate heart. We pray for that grace!
Fr. Clemente Barron, C.P. is a member of the General Council of the Passionist Congregation and is stationed in Rome.