Transformation Delayed

Throughout the Bible, we are called to be transformed. I have been reading the Gospel of Mark and was struck by the repeated refusals of transformation found there. The obvious examples are the Pharisees who wished only to uphold the law in its entirety and were used by Jesus as a foil as he taught his disciples. The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees starts immediately in 2:8 with the scribes “questioning (dialogizomai)” Jesus’ claim that he forgives sin as he is healing the paralytic man. This word is translated in the RSV as “discussed” in 8:16 as the disciples are trying to understand why Jesus told them to beware the leaven of the Pharisees and again in 9:34 when they were “discussing” who would be greatest. and finally, in 11:31, as the chief priests “argued” with one another after Jesus challenged them about the source of John’s authority. Strong’s dictionary defines dialogizomai as “to deliberate, reason.” Attempting to approach Jesus with human rationality alone is simply inadequate. Until we want to see, until we approach Jesus with humility and faith, we will not see.

Jesus’ rebukes were delivered, however, not just to the Pharisees, but to the apostles themselves. He grieved the “hardness of heart” (pōrōsis kardia) of the Pharisees before healing a man (3:5) but then rebuked the disciples with those exact same words twice (6:52 and 8:17). They followed Jesus when they were called, but their apparent obtuseness as they were being taught presented a challenge. After calming the storm (4:40), he asks “Have you no faith?”. Upon being questioned about ritual handwashing, he asks his disciples “Are you so lacking in understanding?” (7:18). Jesus exclaims “Oh, faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” after his disciples fail to heal the boy with the spirit (9:19). What does it take, we want to ask, to pound this into their thick skulls? Jesus has to interrupt an argument about who would be the greatest (9:35), only to promptly rebuke James and John for doing exactly the same thing (10:43). The disciples were puzzled at the anointing of Jesus (14:4) and even Peter, after confessing the Jesus as the Messiah was rebuked moments later (8:31-33) for wanting the Messiah without the suffering and he went on to deny Jesus 3 times (14:66-72). The disciples sleep at Gethsemane (14:32-42) and after he had risen, he appeared to them and upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart (sklerokardia) (10:5).

We see from this a pattern of repetition that it takes time for us to fully absorb the meaning of God’s acts. The blind man of Bethsaida was healed, but not all at once, requiring a second effort (8:22-25). He gained his sight in stages, as we gain full understanding of the Gospel message a bit at a time. God acts in history. He reveals himself over time, repeatedly enjoins secrecy (1:34, 1:44, 3:12, 5:43, 7:36, 8:30; 9:9,30), understanding that his message would take time to fully develop. Only in the Resurrection would the full meaning of his words and acts be revealed. We, with the apostles, suffer from “hardened heart”. We, like the apostles, don’t get quite it and until we do, Jesus displays patient forbearance as we, along with the apostles, slowly plod along towards him. So, confess your sins, pray for the gift of humble obedience and don’t give up!

Published by


I am a retired family physician from rural Iowa and have an MA in Theology from Franciscan University at Stubenville, OH. While my native language is evangelical Protestant, I am fluent in traditional Catholic as well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s