Loosen the Soil of Our Hearts!

Loosen the Soil of Our Hearts!

Reflection                Mk 8:14-21                               

             At first, today’s text had little appeal for me, yet as I sat and prayed, it slowly opened up in stages. Jesus is on the move again, and often He uses a boat to cross to the “other shore” of the Sea of Galilee. I realized that being in the boat with His disciples gives Jesus some private time with them - no one could get to them with their requests! Jesus takes this private moment for a lesson with a pointed question.

            Coming away from the second feeding of thousands of people with just seven loaves and a few fish, Jesus strongly warns them to “watch out, to guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” (8:15) What is the danger of this leaven? The Pharisees had a system of strict rules for what is good or bad, and would often be critical of anyone who did not observe them, including Jesus and His followers.  In addition, they had just pestered Jesus “for a sign from heaven to test Him” (8:11). Scholars of Mark’s Gospel think that some Pharisees may have attended the second feeding which lends an ironic twist to their demand to see “a sign from heaven.”  Could they not see the divine sign Jesus laid out before thousands of people?

            Herod, the ruler, had just shown the weakness of his power when he yielded to his wife’s demand to regale her daughter’s dance with the head of John the Baptist, even though he himself “liked to listen to him, feared him [and knew] he was a righteous man” (6:20). The Pharisees’ human rules and the ruler’s fear for his power block their ability to see the signs of Gods’ kingdom appearing, in full view, but ‘outside the box’ of their own concepts.   

            The disciples don’t understand either – they reduce their Master’s warning to the fact they did not bring enough bread with them.  Quite exasperated Jesus asks: “Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and do not see, ears and do not hear?” (8:18) Not only had they seen two miraculous feedings, they also had seen Jesus walking on the water and calming the storm (6:47-52). They themselves had driven out “many demons” when Jesus sent them on a mission with nothing but a walking stick (6:8, 13). Had they become too accustomed to the signs of Jesus and like the Pharisees yearn for more, a “sign from heaven” – thunder, lightning, appearance of prophets or of a political hero?  

            But before judging them, we must ask: what about us? Aren’t we often like the disciples not really seeing the modest signs of God around us, or not really hearing God’s voice? Are our hearts hardened?

            This expression brings me back to Benedict’s Prolog to the Rule: “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts” (Prol 10).  Yes, I did hear God’s voice and His invitation to seek life and good days by entering this Benedictine community 30+ years ago. Yet I realize that the call to “arise from sleep” (Prol 8) comes to me again in reflecting on this text:  am I at times spiritually asleep in the comfortable life in the monastery with its scheduled times for prayer, Masses and silent times?

            Where am I deaf to God’s voice today – every day?  E.g. when I visit one sister in Health Care but not another? When it is hard for me to “listen” – as Sister Aquinata says—with “the core of my being” – and to “incline my heart” to the sister who talks with me – or would like to talk to me?  Where do I not see how God’s light breaks into an ordinary dreary day and lets me perceive a ray of grace – however tiny and fleeting?  I also need to remember that Benedict calls this light deificum, i.e. “divinizing”, a light than can show off the divine in the tiniest creature in the grass, the red flash of Cardinal flying by, or God’s presence in anyone at the familiar table in the dining room, or the people who come to the food pantry.

            Mark’s text ends quite abruptly:  after the disciples admit that they collected 12 and 7 baskets of leftovers, they and we are left with Jesus asking again: “Do you still not understand?”  (8:21) Wondering about this one early morning it struck me: Jesus does not try to convince them or me with any new argument – he never forces us, rather urges us to re-consider the grace present in our own experiences, he always gives us the freedom to come to deeper faith ourselves.

            Like the disciples, we are not to think that we already ‘got’ the full message of Jesus because we are always, as it were, with Jesus – with His words in Scripture and His presence in the Tabernacle and the Eucharist. Isn’t this text telling me (once again) that living spiritually is always a process with a mixture of fresh insights and stale, old failings? So the final lesson here is – in Benedict’s words – to loosen the soil of our heart every day anew, to remember that regardless of our age we have only  “the beginnings of monastic life” (RB 73.1) and need “Christ’s help” (73.8) to “run on the way of God’s commandments” with patience so that our love for God may grow a bit every single day (Prol 49).


S. Marianne Burkhard OSB


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