“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.
“Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (New International Version)
Hardness of heart is the greatest malady and the most serious condition which could ever afflict a spiritual person.
A soft heart needs only gentle words and humble responses in order to continue learning and growing in life. Not so with the hard heart. It needs a mighty chisel from God to scrape the encrusted barnacles off the heart so that it might receive goodness.
This is why today’s Gospel lesson recounts some rather harsh words from Jesus. Christ had some hard things to say in order to get at the hardness of heart he was experiencing from the people. His scathing words were specifically leveled at the towns in which he had performed miraculous healings. Their inability to accept what was happening in front of their very faces testified to how hard their hearts truly were.
The miracles of Jesus, in addition to being gracious restorations of individual lives, were also meant to demonstrate that the kingdom of God has broken into history in the person of Jesus Christ. The crowd refused to acknowledge this reality. So, Jesus began leveling a rebuke to the towns who observed his ministry firsthand, and yet did nothing in response to those good works.
A hard heart observing Christ’s ministry will likely be unresponsive to Jesus. A soft heart will likely reply with humility by forsaking everything to follow him. For Jesus, the height of hubris was to simply ignore his righteous works of merciful teaching and benevolent healing.
Christ’s denunciation of the particular towns came not because he was experiencing opposition or persecution; rather, he was denouncing them for their bonehead lack of response and refusal to change their lives to conform to what they were seeing and experiencing from God.
The crowd heard Christ’s teaching and saw his miracles, and it had no effect on them. So, Jesus gave them a big “C’mon, man!”
Judgment becomes the lot of someone who is unaffected and unresponsive to the vast sea of human need around them, viewing Jesus as just another voice, and living a life of mediocrity in the face of opportunity.
The Holy Spirit has been provided, who is the power source of the Christian life. We possess all the resources of grace necessary to step into this world and make a difference, yet so many do nothing but occupy a place in the pew [or couch] because they are too afraid to sacrifice their time in meaningful ministry.
There are neighbors, relatives, and co-workers who are lost and lonely, in need of the kind of grace Jesus gives, yet too many of us are oblivious to them and instead are constantly worried about things that, in the end, don’t really matter at all.
We have opportunities to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ through a vast array of available ministries, yet many do not take the chance to change and be spiritually stretched. For these situations and more, the words of Jesus are there in front of our faces, and yet some, out of hardness of heart, will have the audacity to read them and remain unchanged, unchallenged, and unresponsive.
If our highest values in life are sameness, stability, and security, we may very well, at the least, miss Jesus altogether, and, at worst, find ourselves under his condemnation. These verses are for those whom Jesus has become all too familiar, as if he is just another piece of furniture in the living room – the coffee table with a dusty Bible resting on it.
There are times when nice gets us nowhere and we must have hard conversations because of hard hearts.
Yes, conversations, and not verbal rockets launched from one group to another. Jesus did not denounce from a distance; he did it up close and personal. Furthermore, he was specific and not generic about why he was speaking in the way he did.
So, may you be able to pray this prayer of repentance today with heartfelt conviction:
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Sovereign Lord of the universe, Creator of humanity, we, your unfaithful children, are sorry for our sins and the lives that we have lived apart from your grace. We sincerely believe and confess in our hearts that only through the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, can we obtain your forgiveness.
We repent that: in thought, word, and deed, we have committed serious offences against you and our neighbors. Through spiritual laziness and prideful lust for power, we have provoked hatred, division, despair, and hurt within our communities.
Through our greed, deceit, and indifference, we have inflicted serious damage, unnecessary conflict, and aggravated destruction to those different than us.
Through our selfishness, insensitivity, and bias (both conscious and unconscious) we have encouraged and emboldened those who inflict hurt, pain, and sorrow on those who are already oppressed and poor.
In the name of religion, doctrine, and even of Christ himself, we have wounded fellow believers and those who genuinely pursue a faith different than ours.
In stubbornness, pride, and arrogance, we have caused division and strife within your church and among your people.
Mercifully send your Holy Spirit, the Spirit of order and comfort, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness; to restore in us true faith in Christ which brings truth, peace and harmony; and, to help us walk together
with our brothers and sisters in the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of your name. Amen.