“Grieved” is the word that stands out in today’s gospel. Jesus asked the Pharisees if it is “lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it.” They believed otherwise and the hardness of their heart “grieved” Jesus.
This word for “grieved” (sullupeó) carries a deep sense of emotional pain, almost like the sadness of a broken heart. Jesus was “grieved” (sullupeó) in his heart because of the state of their hearts. By this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had already performed many miraculous healings, just as God had already performed many miracles for the Israelites in the wilderness during the Exile, such as in Exodus 17, one of the places where we first encounter the hardness of heart, when the Israelites kept testing the Lord and finding fault with Moses. Hard-heartedness becomes a running theme throughout Scripture, so much so that God promises “a new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:23).
But what does it mean to have a heart as hard as stone? The word for “hard” (qashah) in the Old Testament is used to describe the severity (qashah) of Rachel’s labor when she gave birth to Benjamin (see Genesis 35:16-17). Jacob also used this word to describe the cruelty (qashah) of Simeon and Levi’s fury (see Genesis 49:5-7). This word is also used to describe the difficulty (qashah) of Elisha’s request for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (see 2 Kings 2:10). The hardness of a person’s heart is not simply about stubbornness, as today’s gospel seems to indicate, but it also implies stubbornness to the point of severity and cruelty in need of a miraculous transformation.
In today’s gospel, it was easier for Jesus to “restore” a withered hand than a hard heart. He commanded the man with the withered hand, "Stretch out your hand,” but he commands all of us: Stretch out your heart. And just like the man with the withered hand who obeyed Jesus, we must do the same. We must stretch out the withered hand of our hard hearts toward Christ so that he can miraculously restore all hearts from cruelty to compassion, from severity to sanctity, from pride to piety and purity, because he is grieved at our hard-heartedness. He is grieved when we do not let him replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. He is grieved when we do not let him restore our lives to holiness.
Be restored by him today. Stretch out your heart!