“[You are] like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.” These words of Jesus may seem a bit perplexing at first, but Jesus’ subsequent explanation of them reveals that what he is objecting to in his opponents is their hardness of heart.
“John came neither eating nor drinking, and [you] say, ‘He has a demon’” Jesus observes; “the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and [you] say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Two messengers have come to you, Jesus is saying, and you have refused to believe both. One came as a desert ascetic, “neither eating nor drinking”; the other came as “a friend of sinners,” eating and drinking with all manner of persons. You rejected both. You would not open yourself to God’s call to repent and believe.
This word challenges us today to look into our own hearts, to see if they are open or closed, to notice if they are turning towards God or away from God. It seems especially important that our hearts be open during this season of Advent, as we attentively await the coming of the Lord.
Theologian and popular author Marcus Borg helps us to understand the difference between a heart that is closed and a heart that is open in his book, The Heart of Christianity (pp.152-3). Here are some of the characteristics of a closed heart, according to Borg:
- “Blindness and limited vision go with a closed heart,” says Borg. “We do not see clearly when our hearts are closed… [When we are] enclosed in our own world, we neither see nor hear very well.”
- “A closed heart affects the mind, the reasoning process itself… The heart can even deceive the mind in the process we call ‘rationalization,’ that is, self-interested self-justification. We often believe our own deceptions… A closed heart is associated with lack of understanding and a darkened mind.”
- “A closed heart and bondage go together… We are often in bondage to the desiring of our own hearts.”
- “A closed heart lacks gratitude. It successful in life, a person with a closed heart often feels self-made and entitled; or, if life has gone badly, bitter and cheated. But gratitude is far from it.”
- “A closed heart is insensitive to wonder and awe. The world looks ordinary when our hearts are closed.”
- “A closed heart forgets God. It does not remember the one in whom we live and move and have our being; it loses track of the Mystery always around us.”
- “A closed heart and exile go together. Self-preoccupied, turned inward upon itself, the shut heart is cut off from a larger reality. Separated and disconnected, it is estranged and in exile.”
- “A closed heart lacks compassion… Though it can be charitable, it does not feel the suffering of others.”
- “For the same reason, a closed heart is insensitive to injustice… The prophets and Jesus, champions of God’s justice, often indict the condition of the hard heart.”
Here is a prayer for today: As we live in this season of Advent, awaiting the coming of the Lord, we might examine our hearts to see if they are truly open.
- Are we mindful of God, aware of God’s presence and activity in our lives?
- Are our hearts filled with gratitude, or do we find in them greed, resentment or anger?
- Are we open to those we meet? Can we see them and hear them, or are we bound up in self-preoccupation?
- Are we noticing them with compassion, sensitive to their suffering?
- Are we concerned about the injustice we see in the world around us?
- Are we open to God speaking to us in the language of everyday events? Are we willing to hear God’s admonitions and to accept God’s guidance, or are we happier to justify our selfish behaviors and chart our own way in life?
These are deep and rich questions to keep before us in this season of Advent. May the Lord find in us hearts that are open and ready to receive him, whenever and however he chooses to come to us.
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