Readings: Hebrews 3:7-14; Psalm 94; Mark 1:40-45
The hardened heart is a kind of interior leprosy, at least in its consequences. Hardening the heart leads to isolation and to confusion in relationships. It locks us into ourselves. The person whose heart is hardened lives apart from human interaction even when he is surrounded by people.
There is much about the heart in the scriptures. There are warnings, as today, about the hardening of the heart. Jeremiah calls for a circumcision of the heart. Ezekiel speaks of the need for hearts of stone to be replaced with hearts of flesh.
But there is encouragement in today's scripture readings also. Each today, as long as today lasts, is an opportunity. The Church begins its prayer each day with the psalm quoted in the first reading from Hebrews. Like a gardener who tends his garden each day, we may not see the fruits of our work (God's work) immediately. We may not appreciate what is being kept at bay and under control by this daily praying. As we strive to keep our hearts open we are at least disposed towards something new and fruitful. If we do not do that every day then we will miss the day on which it does happen.
Even deeper encouragement is found in the fact that Jesus identifies with the leper, at least in taking on himself the consequences of being a leper. Last Sunday's feast, of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated his solidarity with sinners in being baptised. That solidarity is seen even more clearly in his agony and desolation. Although he is God's loving kindness made flesh he tasted the bitterness of hard-heartedness. He tasted it all the more deeply precisely because his own heart is tender with the tender love of God. He experienced the darkness of God-forsakeness while yet remaining sinless. Again, he experienced that all the more keenly for being the eternal Son of the Father of Light.
We have a Lord who has sent his Spirit into our hearts, removing the hearts of stone, giving us hearts of flesh instead. Today - why not? - he may change us, making us open-hearted and compassionate as we were not before.