We’ve got a crazy lady who walks our neighborhood streets, off and on. She cusses at the top of her lungs, weeps and wails at all hours of the night, and responds to inquiries with rage. She empties our little lending library of books and dumps them in the ditch. The neighborhood gossip says she is getting drugs down the road. The police agree with those suspicions, but until she breaks a law, their hands are tied. She makes us feel unsafe, and we all wish she’d take her problems elsewhere.
Most of the people around here view her as a nuisance. But every time my family has a run in with her, I get a twinge of compassion. My temptation is to shove that feeling away, to numb it with excuses. The woman is causing problems. She must deserve what she gets. Why should I concern myself about a drug addict? I cannot do anything to help her situation. So, why should I care?
In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus’ interaction with the religious leaders of his day cautions us that stuffing down that feeling we get when we witness human suffering is a first step toward murder. A callous heart can quickly become a killer.
And [Jesus] entered again to the synagogue and there was a man who had a shriveled hand. And they began to watch [Jesus] to see if he would heal on the Sabbath so they might denounce him.
So, he says to the man with the shriveled hand,” Get up. Come to the center.” Then, he says to them, “Is it allowed on the Sabbath to do good or evil? To save life or destroy it?
But they remained silent.
And looking around at them with anger, and being grieved over the hardening of their hearts, he says to the man, “Hold out your hand.”
So, he held it out, and his hand had been restored.
Then, the Pharisees immediately went out and began to plot against him with the Herodians – how they might destroy him.
People are the priority.
The Pharisees were motivated by protecting the Sabbath. Jesus was motivated by people.
This difference sparked the confrontation in Mark 3. The concern over breaking the law blinded the Pharisees to the suffering person standing before them. To them, the disabled man was not a person, but a prop. He was a useful object to entrap Jesus.
I also suspect that the Pharisees projected their own view of people onto Jesus and this caused them to be suspicious of Jesus’ motives for healing. We’ll see a bit more of this in the coming stories. They thought he was using the man with the shriveled hand as an excuse to break Sabbath. Because they were hyper focused on enforcing compliance, they missed the point. Laws are made to protect people.
We should be wary of blind adherence to a law that causes more harm to people than protection. Legality or illegality is not an excuse to ignore the plight of the people it effects. People are the priority, and constant evaluation of this principle in comparison to current laws is important.
Suffering should get our attention.
Jesus called the disabled man into the midst of the group, right where everyone could see him. His question about what is lawful on Sabbath gets to heart of the issue, which is saving life. Human life is precious, and a suffering person has the attention of God.
Jesus centered human suffering. He wants us to notice.
We cannot heal as quickly and efficiently as Jesus, but we can give suffering people our attention. We can stop looking away from the homeless, the immigrants, the disabled, the addicts, and the misbehaving child. Stop and say a kind word. Smile and look them in the eye. Every person, made in the image of God, deserves our attention, at the very least.
A callous attitude can quickly become active violence.
Jesus asked if it is better to save a life or destroy it? The Pharisees refused to answer, revealing the state of their hearts.
They intentionally missed his point. They were callous, insensitive, and obtuse. They made themselves numb to feeling pity for the disabled man, and avoided understanding Jesus’ words. In refusing to engage with him, they chose deliberate ignorance.
And that made Jesus mad. And sad. Two things can be true at once, right?
This willful “hardening of their hearts” is the core issue Jesus warns his disciples against a bit later in Mark 8. It is the “yeast of the Pharisees,” which means that a callous attitude is catching. Jesus figurately describes this contagious behavior as having unperceptive eyes, un-listening ears, and forgetful memories. It is a stubborn unbelief and callous disregard. It is dangerous.
When we harden our heart against suffering people, no matter if they are law breakers or addicts, we not only tempt others to follow us in our disregard, we also set the course toward further harm.
The story ends with…
Immediately, they plotted to destroy Jesus.
Turning away from seeing suffering people, dulling ourselves to the compassion we feel, or refusing to contemplate another person’s misery is a dangerous game. Hard hearts led many Germans to become complicit in the Holocaust. Hard hearts turned racists into lynchers in the American South. What could callous disregard for suffering people justify in our current time?
Which brings me back to the crazy lady walking my neighborhood streets. She deserves my attention because she is a person. Until I know how to help her better, I will look at her, show her I see her, and continue to give her my compassion. Jesus wants me to care. And, perhaps my small attempt at softening my heart toward the crazy lady will be the small change that brings her life.
When we harden our heart against suffering people, no matter if they are law breakers or addicts, we not only tempt others to follow us in our disregard, we also set the course toward further harm.Tweet
A callous attitude can quickly become active violence.Tweet