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  • Writer's pictureElpidio Pezzella

The Sclerocardia

"And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand".

(Mark 3:5 NKJV)

We will all have encountered inflexible people who "hear no reason," who feel compelled to adhere strictly to rules without regard to either the circumstances or those in front of them. Those who have the disposition to step into the shoes of others recognize almost "inhuman" traits in them. This is a manifestation of what we find defined in the Bible as "hardness of heart," as in the case of the objections that the "Pharisees" make to Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum regarding the weekly rest, not at all interested in the suffering of the man who will be healed. Their legalism does not allow them to understand the benefit derived for the man, preferring instead to add unnecessary burdens or crush all hope. What the Master announces by His actions is that the good of the individual must prevail over the enforcement of a norm. Even in Nazareth Jesus will experience a similar situation (Mark 6:1-6). The people who should have been the first to accept the Good News will be the ones who will have the hardest time accepting it. The conflict was not only with outsiders, but also and especially with his own family members who could not understand the divine mystery that enveloped his person.

The Gospel refers many times to this particular condition in which an individual may find himself, using precisely the Greek term "sclerocardia," literally "sclerosis of the heart." The word "sclerosis" clearly renders the concept of progressive immobility, inability to adapt to change, hence "hardness of heart" i.e. inflexibility, insensitivity, inability to be understanding, merciful or compassionate, stubbornness, obstinacy. The term describes it just like a disease, although this can be compassionately tolerated. Instead, "hardness of heart" outrages, just as Jesus does. So it is absolutely to be condemned. At the same time it greatly saddens (as it also saddens Jesus here), because it is not a condition that can be cured like the paralyzed hand of the man in the synagogue. It appears humanly without remedy, because the human heart, already the source of all evil, when it hardens it loses all possibility of doing good to others as well as to itself. It can generate only poison and wickedness and procure much pain: "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness" (Mark 7:21-22).

Sclerocardia is closely related to unbelief. Those affected by it refuse to repent and believe God's promises. It makes one so obstinate that he closes in on his own person and unwilling to accept God's love. At the same time it corrupts feelings, diverting them. Obsessive jealousy, blind violence, oppressive relationships will be reputed to be symptoms of love, but they are only the fruit of a hardened heart incapable of love. We, too, like the people of Nazareth, those who feel closest to the Lord, those who consider themselves Christians of "good behavior", are not unscathed. When the heart refuses to beat to the rhythm of God's heart, it is the death of love. Therefore, it is appropriate for each of us to examine ourselves in search of those areas of unbelief where secretly dwell remnants of mentality and affectivity that need to be brought in tune with the Gospel. Each of us probably has in our inner selves some area on which the cross of Christ has not yet been planted.

One wonders at this point if there is any possibility of recovery or healing. Scripture reminds us that if “with men it is impossible, but notwith God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). There is therefore hope. Let us rejoice! Indeed, sclerocardia can be healed as God Himself promises with a radical transplant: "Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, (...) I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26). Do you want such a heart? Ask for it!


Weekly Bible Reading

Plan #07

February 06, Exodus 39-40; Matthew 23:23-39

February 07, Leviticus 1-3; Matthew 24:1-28

February 08, Leviticus 4-5; Matthew 24:29-51

February 09, Leviticus 6-7; Matthew 25:1-30

February 10, Leviticus 8-10; Matthew 25:31-46

February 11, Leviticus 11-12; Matthew 26:1-25

February 12, Leviticus 13; Matthew 26:26-50

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