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June 11, 2016

Text: “And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Mark 8:17

A large crowd of hearers lingered around Jesus for three days  in a deserted place to learn his heartening lessons of the kingdom of God. With compassion Jesus turned to his 12 disciples and asked if they had any bread to feed these fainting pilgrims. Seven loaves were found, but no more for the hungering followers. Nevertheless, Jesus turned up some fish and with these meager provisions spread them to the crowd of 4,000 and they were all satisfied.

As the crowd dispersed, the Pharisees began to badger him about doing a miracle to prove he was from God. Jesus turned to the 12 and gave them a pertinent warning: “And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.”  To the whining disciples Jesus countered, “Do you not yet perceive or understand?” And he went on with a startling question to the young evangelists, “Are your hearts hardened?”

Think about this! These men had been with him many months, heard his message of the gospel, and seen many miracles that  he had performed. Jesus had called them from their different stations in life, and they had turned their backs upon livelihood and family to serve his endeavors. They were his closest and dearest friends, loyal and enthused about the cause. And here he reveals the largest chink in their armor: hardened hearts. Jesus fears they “had seen with their eyes and heard with their ears,” but failed by not allowing faith to  expand in their hearts.

Not many days before, Jesus had performed a similar miracle by feeding a crowd of 5,000 hearers in the same situation. The disciples, having observed that miracle, should have been prepared for this comparable circumstance Jesus took plain, unschooled men of low faith quotients, and had only three years to fit them to carry out their challenging mission.  (For the methods Jesus took in schooling these men read:  The Training of the Twelve, by A. B. Bruce.) Their unfinished training is evident in this episode. Jesus was speaking of the dangers of false teaching, but the disciples replied about bread for lunch. Jesus had expected the light bulb was on, but the apostles had had a disconnection!

Further, Jesus reminds them that they have sufficient learning tools to grasp and retain his teaching, but they do not employ those abilities! “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” Mark 8:18a  No doubt, we ourselves have the same capacities, but are our hearts hardened?

Perhaps our hearts are out of touch with God.  “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me…” Mark 7:6a   You doubtless have seen a photo of the painting “The Creation of Adam” on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel. God is portrayed as lying on a shell with his arm stretched out and Adam is below with his arm stretched out toward God, but they do not touch!  Michelangelo’s symbolism seems to say to me that God and Adam are isolated from one another.  Detached parties have neither conversation nor agreement with one another. After the resurrection Jesus walked with two dejected disciples to their home at Emmaus. They later told one another,  “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” Luke 24:32  Let our hearts be warmed and opened by the Lord!

An unchanging heart can be a hardened heart.  When beliefs, habits, actions, and opinions are not open to possible correction the heart becomes hardened.  At times other people, greater knowledge or circumstances might challenge us to change. Then we might grit our teeth and bow our backs in order to cement ourselves in the heart’s wrongful inclinations. Stubborn we are, like proverbial mules.  The Pharisees of the time of Jesus were such hard-hearted incorrigibles because they held tenaciously to the traditions of the fathers.  Mark 7:3b  Take a big draft of humility to  facilitate the softening of the heart. “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

If one’s heart is conflicted, it is troublesomely  hardened. In his farewell address to Israel at the end of his military career he prodded the Israelites to give the Lord their undivided worship and loyalty. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15  Jesus said it another way: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24  


 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also   with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly.” Isaiah 57:15





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