is already thirteen days into the new year and many of us are probably balking
under the weight of our new year’s resolutions. If we have not caved
already, we may be on the brink. Sooner or later, for most of us, the
zeal of resolution softens into the comfort of old patterns—we succumb to
the familiarity of temptation. In a way, as we soften by yielding,
our hearts are hardened.
Before Christmas I was discussing resolutions on the phone with my sister.
I think the subject was diet. I have discovered that refined white
flour and all related products—especially those with lots of sugar—do not
agree with me at all. I feel dramatically better when I don’t eat them, and
usually I don’t. But usually is not always. Sometimes I am willing
to trade a moment a satisfaction for a whole day (or more) of discomfort.
I said to my sister, “why is it so hard to change?” I mean, we often
do not only what we know is not helpful, but what we know will and does hurt
us. This is extremely odd. It is also a very old human problem,
as both the reading from Hebrews and the Psalms point out.
What is “hardening our hearts” if not a willful softening of our resolution
to follow Christ? If we read the Bible carefully, as the author of the letter
to the Hebrews had, we will see this theme of hardening and resistance appear
over and over again. Apparently human beings are very stubborn when
it comes to doing God’s will. It is far easier to sit on the couch
and watch TV than to rise before dawn for yet another workout. But
rising early is exactly what is required. According to Hebrews, we
need to choose that workout daily, because this is what is required of “partners
of Christ.” This resolutory ambition is captured in today’s psalm response:
“if today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Every day requires
a new choice to remain faithful to the gospel. Hebrews in conjunction
with this psalm seems to have little patience for New Year’s slackers like
The relief comes in remembering that we are lepers. If we have a hard
time changing our habits in order to eat well and exercise, why would we
expect change to come easily in other areas of our life, areas where we resist
God and “harden our hearts” by the soft comfort of patterns that have been
repeated for years and even decades. The leper in today’s gospel had
no more control over his leprosy than most human beings have over their sin.
“Sin happens,” as some say, if more crassly. What the leper recognized
is that Jesus could make him clean. God could do for him what he could
not do for himself.
I believe God wants us to succeed in our resolutions to live differently,
more healthfully, and more authentically. The leper reminds us that
such transformations are not accomplished by violent resolutions, but through
humble submission to the transforming power of God in our lives.
Now, go get on that treadmill!