On the Problem of a Stubborn and Unrepentant Heart.

In the Gospel for Wednesday, Jesus rebuked the people of his time for their stubborn and unrepentant hearts:

This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.” Luke 11:29-32

Stubborn? – It is a notable issue that sometimes sets up in both individuals and cultures, that the heart becomes obstinate, stubborn, incorrigible, and unrepentant. Increasingly, the heart becomes hardened and unlikely to change, even despite overwhelming evidence that the course one is on is destructive, and a source of pain.

Perhaps a couple of examples from our culture will help to illustrate what the Lord is teaching.

The Problem of Promiscuity – The past fifty years have featured an explosion of promiscuity. I do not argue that there was no sexual sin prior to 1960, but it is a far wider problem today both in quantity and degree. And the results of promiscuity are demonstrable and terrible: STDs, AIDS, teenage pregnancy, abortion, a devastation of marriage and family. Divorce rates have soared. Co-habitation and other alternative arrangements have proliferated.

Children are the ones who suffer by not being raised in two-parent families under the formative influence of a father and mother, male and female. Sure enough, under stress, the rates of Juvenile delinquency have gone up [1] even as test scores [2] and graduation rates [3] have diminished. Promiscuity also leads to poverty since the chief cause of poverty in this country is single motherhood [4]. Children living in fatherless homes are 5 times more likely to live in poverty, 9 times more likely to drop out of school, 37% more likely to abuse drugs, 2 times more likely to be incarcerated, 2.5 times more likely to become a teen parent, 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders, 32 times more likely to run away [4].

Well, you get the point. Promiscuity causes diseases, divorce, and devastation of the family, which in turns harms children through abortion, poverty and irregular family situations. Statistically, the results are clear, even staggering.

Yet, despite this, there seems little willingness in our culture to learn or even to reflect on the relationship of promiscuity to great harm. One might expect a rational person or culture to observe these sorts of results and say, “Gee, this is pretty bad. Maybe we should change the way we behave.” But not only is such a reconsideration not evident among most, but a kind of doubling down of bad behavior is occurring. There are increasing demands that the Church and other “moral police” be silenced and cease their “intolerant” attitudes. There are also demands that the government supply condoms, promote contraception, fund abortion, provide welfare that financially incentivizes single motherhood, and promote “values-neutral” sex education in schools. Even AIDs research though good and fine in itself, is often demanded in the absence of any appreciation that celibate behavior is an important aspect of prevention.

At some point we have to see how promiscuity is destroying us. The breakdown of the family is a civilization-killer. But still we seem, as a culture to be unable or unwilling to change the way we think and the way we behave.

And thus we see illustrated what the Lord condemns: a stubborn and unrepentant heart.

Another example is our greed. At some level, we know by experience that our affluence vexes us sorely. The more we have, the more stressed out we become. The more affluent we become, the more Americans go on psychiatric and psychotropic drugs [5]. We are busy and stressed trying to maintain our extravagant lifestyles. We have never lived so long and healthy, and we have never been so anxious about our health. We have never had so much and never been so anxious about “the economy” and “the stock market.” Money worries us constantly. We buy things we can’t afford, and our credit cards worry us. We buy, and then are not satisfied, for now a newer model has been issued and we feel “poor” (we are NOT poor) and diminished for not having the latest. More, fancier, bigger, deluxe options, but along with it, stress, dissatisfaction, and anxiety.

Despite knowing all this (and we DO know it), we still want more. No matter the evidence, we still upgrade, enlarge, and accessorize. At some point you’d think we say, “Enough. All this stuff is driving me crazy, I think I will simplify my life, and ask the Lord to make we satisfied with essentials, or at least with less.”  But we don’t, and we stubbornly adhere to the greed (the insatiable desire for more) that we know vexes us sorely. In effect our hearts have become stubborn and unrepentant both as individuals and as a culture. It just seems we collectively refuse to change in this regard. And thus we see illustrated what the Lord condemns: a stubborn and unrepentant heart.

In Lent, we do well to ask the Lord to soften our hard hearts. The Lord said to Moses on several occasions that we are a stiff-necked people (Eg Ex 32:9; 33:3; Deut 31:27; inter al). And through Isaiah He says that our neck is iron and our forehead is bronze (Is 48:4). To Ezekiel he said we are stubborn and obstinate, not to mention hard of heart (Ez 2:4; 3:7).

It’s OK he still loves us. But we need some serious help. And Lent is a good time to appreciate that. We need this help as individuals and as a culture. We tend to be stubborn and unrepentant. We tend to justify our behavior and have a cultivated blindness that refuses to see what is plainly before us.

Two Christians were speaking. One said, in my church there are many miracles! The other asks, “So you consider it a miracle if God does someone’s will?”  “Yes!” said the other. “Hmm….” said the second, “In my church it is considered a miracle if someone does the will of God.”

Pray for a miracle.

5 Replies to “On the Problem of a Stubborn and Unrepentant Heart.”

  1. What is meant by the “queen of the south” in the passage you quoted? I read this just the other day in Matthew 12:42, and was struck with the idea that I didn’t remember ever hearing that portion of the passge before, and now here it is again.

    1. I’ve always understood the “Queen of the South” to refer to the “Queen of Sheba” who we read about in 1 Kings 10:1-13. Both she and the Ninevites were outside of God’s “chosen people”, yet they both heard and responded to God’s Word, the Queen of Sheba from God’s anointed King Solomon and the Ninevites from the mouth of the Prophet Jonah. I think Jesus is contrasting the disbelief of the current Jewish generation with the gentiles of ages past. How is it that the ignorant gentiles recognized those who foreshadowed the Messiah, yet the current generation of God’s covenant people not recognize the Messiah when He finally came?

  2. I agree, Monsignor, that greed has blinded us to our need for God and to live up to our covenant with him. We have substituted Him with some lesser gods. Hence, we indulge in paganistic practices that are expressed in our promiscuity, and to live by the principle of “Laugh and be merry for tomorrow we die.” In Jonah we see how a reluctant and disobedient messenger can be very effective when he obeys God’s command, and how we can achieve wisdom if we search for it, like the queen of the south, who visited Solomon. Jesus is saying that we have to learn to see beyond Jonah and the queen of the south (for they are merely signs), to see what God is doing for us. But instead, and as you say, we look for answers and deliverance elsewhere: on politicians who we look up to to cure the ills of our society; to technology, as in the case of people in the USA ordering gas masks for protection in case of radiation, as a result of Japan’s nuclear problem; to another kind of messiah, like the movie personalities, as paradigm for the good life and morality, and the list could go on. We try to fill the void of our lives with things that will never satisy. Jesus is right. We still live in an evil age where we still seek answers, signs and hope for our salvation elsewhere, other than in God, who is always doing something new. We still reject the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who stands before us at all times. May God help us! Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for allowing us to reflect on these readings.

  3. Were I technically competent I would scan and send to you a picture of my then 2½-yo daughter as a lamb in her preschool’s Christmas pagent. The mulish expression on her face would clearly out-do the goat you used to illustrate your point.

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