Readings: Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; Ezekiel 36:24-28; Mark 11:27-33
I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:24-28 NRSV
“Pathetic old man.”
I overheard one of my high school teachers say this. He was looking at Mr. Quimby, my English Literature teacher, who was resting on the landing halfway up the staircase; cancer treatments had weakened his body, and the stairs were a challenge. I’d never heard such a callous comment before, and it’s stayed with me these thirty-eight years. What had gone so wrong with someone that he could make such a remark?
Heartsick. Only someone whose spirit is diseased could say such cruel words. Mr. Quimby was physically sick, something everyone could see, but he was kind and patient in spite of his pain. This man was sick internally, a terrible disease revealed in that offhand remark. I understand now what I didn’t then: a spiritual sickness was killing him from the inside just as surely as Mr. Quimby’s cancer was killing him from the outside. His heart was a tombstone.
God alone can cure such a death, resurrecting the spirit within and returning someone to the land of love, joy, and life. Such a resurrection is not just for individuals: whole communities are reborn when God touches them. The old heart of stone is removed, and the new one pulses with life. But such a miracle has consequences: a heart of flesh cannot disregard the pain and suffering of others. The heart’s love and compassion will see in the dying man resting on the stairs God’s beloved child. His suffering cannot be ignored or discounted by anyone with a heart of flesh. But God’s presence will give a living heart the strength and courage to mourn his death, and the faith to see his resurrection beyond it.
O Lord, take away my heart of stone and give me a heart full of love and compassion. Amen.