It is really interesting to consider how Pharaoh responded to Moses’ request to “Let God’s people go”. We are told that the first few times he heard Moses’ request he “hardened his heart.”
Hardening our hearts is a terrible terrible thing. In our life we may find we too are tempted to harden our hearts; when we are hurt, disappointed, or let down. It is like we draw ourselves in close and “batten down the hatches”. It may be because of something that has been said or done, or even something that hasn’t been said or done. Sometimes we place such huge (and dare I say unrealistic) expectations on ourselves and on other people.
The thing is, Pharaoh wasn’t hurt, disappointed or let down. He was arrogant in the extreme. He was proud and considered himself to be a god in his own right. That’s how Egyptian society and culture worked.
It is perhaps no wonder that when we read the account of Pharaoh’s encounter with Moses further we learn that after he had hardened his heart a number of times, God’s response was effectively “so be it” and eventually God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. That is like saying “ok, you have had plenty of opportunity, and you have made a clear choice on this matter…but you have to live with the consequences”.
And then we come to our gospel reading for today and we learn how the disciples hearts had been hardened too. “Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” The disciples hadn’t been hurt, disappointed or let down. Neither were they arrogant. Their hearts were hardened through doubt, not disbelief, but doubt and quite probably fear.
So it seems clear that our hearts can be hardened by so many different causes and fear is often at the root of all of these causes. At the end of the day, when everything else is stripped away, we sometimes need to be willing to ask ourselves that really difficult question “What are we frightened of?” Perhaps Pharaoh was fearful of losing the slave labour provided by the Hebrews and how it might destabilise the Egyptian economy and thus diminish his power. At first the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost and they cried out in terror.
Whatever the causes we need to try and recognise them and to take steps to prevent them happening or escalating. I would like to suggest that when our hearts are hardened we begin to lose sight of our humanity and all that we are created to be.
I am only 44 years old. I have lived a lot, and in God’s grace I’ve got a lot more living left to do. I can honestly tell you that in 44 years there is only thing I know that really gets rid of that fear and softens our heart. And that one thing is love.
We are told that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”