The Heart of the Savior in the New Testament

“More Brilliant than the Sun," a weekly series by Robert Stackpole, STD, Director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy 

The series so far:
PART 1: The Plan of the Heart of Jesus to Drive Back the World's Darkness
PART 2: What Do We Really Mean By “The Heart of Jesus”?
PART 3: Devotion to the Heart of Jesus and its Roots in Holy Scripture

PART 4: The Heart of the Savior in the New Testament

The mystery of the Heart of Christ was not unveiled to the world for the first time in the special revelations given to St. Margaret Mary in the 16th century. As we saw in the previous article in this series, it has its roots in the Old Testament, in prophetic passages about the Messiah — and now, as we shall see this time, it unfolds with even greater splendor in the New Testament.

In fact, in the Gospels, Jesus Himself directs us to the mystery of His Heart. Our Lord called out to the people of Galilee, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11: 28-29). Again, our Lord said on the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink ... as the scripture says, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water’” (Jn 7:37-38).1 

Rest for our soul
In short, Jesus promises us that in His Heart we can find rest for our soul’s weariness, and refreshment for our soul’s thirst. When we come to Him in prayer each day, these promises come true in our own personal experience: Jesus pours out upon us the unfathomable and never-failing love of His Heart in the gift of the Holy Spirit, who helps us carry our burdens, and gives us the light and strength we need to follow our Lord as His true disciples.

On one occasion, Jesus looked out on the people who came to hear Him speak and said, “I have compassion on the crowd” (Mt 15:32, RSVCE), a passage that also can be translated as “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd” (NABRE).

Notice that in all three of these Gospel passages He puts no social boundaries on the love of His Heart. He invites “all who labor, and are heavy laden” and “any one” who thirsts to come to Him, and His compassion extends to everyone in the crowd. In our Lord’s time, that would have included both men and women, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, slaves and free, the sick and the healthy, and believers and non-believers alike.

All this was manifest on the Cross, when the side of Jesus was opened by the lance, and out of His Heart flowed streams of water and blood (see Jn 19:34) symbolic of all the graces of His merciful love, especially the graces He pours out upon the world through Baptism and the Holy  Eucharist. In the second century A.D., St. Irenaeus of Lyons reminded Christians that “the Church,” the Body of Christ in the world, “is the fountain of living water that flows to us from the Heart of Christ.”2 Through her life of prayer, and through the sacramental graces she administers, the gracious love of Jesus Christ flows out upon humanity: a completely free gift to all willing to receive Him as their Lord and Savior, in repentance and faith, and all who will come to this fountain of living water to drink. By Divine Providence, the symbol of this gift of grace from His Heart was enacted only moments after the Son of God had been cruelly murdered by sinful men, which serves to show how utterly free and unmerited His grace truly is. 

Living water
What happened at the piercing of the side of Christ on the Cross also fulfills an Old Testament prophecy of the Messiah. As we have seen, John 7:37-38 tells us that Jesus promised to all those who thirst that they can come to Him and receive “living water,” the life-giving Holy Spirit (see Jn 7:39), and God signified on the Cross that this free gift, pouring out from His Son’s Heart, had been bought for us with the price of His own blood. Thus the words of the prophet Isaiah can now come true: “You shall draw waters with joy out of the Savior’s fountain” (Is 12:3). That “fountain” of living water is clearly the Heart of Jesus, overflowing with merciful love for us, poured out upon us especially through His Body on earth, the Church.

In the Gospels, Jesus not only speaks about His Heart, and signifies it as the source of saving grace (by the blood and water flowing from His Heart on the Cross); in addition, the entire Gospel story of the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus, from beginning to end, manifests the love of His Heart for His Heavenly Father, and for all of humanity. This is not by accident. Through the Gospels, our Lord intended to provide for all generations a verbal icon (so to speak) of His loving Heart — an integral part of His strategy to draw the hearts of all people to Himself. Father Verheylezoon wrote (Devotion to the Sacred Heart, p. 113-114):

Love engenders love. Our heart is so made that it is sensitive to affection and love, and that it responds, as it were, automatically to affection with affection, to love with love. If then we wish to arouse in our souls love for the Heart of Jesus, we have only to consider and meditate on the magnificent and touching proofs which He has given of His love for us. It cannot but be that our hearts will be inflamed with the love which Jesus rightly demands as the response to his love.

Sheer love for us
From the very beginning of the Gospel story, we see the divine Son of God, out of sheer love for us, taking flesh and dwelling among us, and sharing with us all the conditions and limitations of human life, even the weakness and utter helplessness of human infancy. Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey, SSCC, reflected on this mystery in his book Jesus, King of Love (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1978 edition, p. 116-117):

Think of His weakness and helplessness in Mary’s womb, where physically, in His condition as creature, He depended on His mother, He, Mary’s Creator! How beautiful it is to contemplate Him on that first Christmas, born on the straw among the animals, a speechless Babe, His little limbs as frail and clumsy as our own. It is marvelously touching that He should of His own will have condemned Himself to those swaddling clothes in which His mother wrapped Him. How sweet is that God as He lies in the arms of His Immaculate Mother, who provides for all His needs. …

When Herod schemed against the Child, desiring to slay Him, that Child, the God of battles, had to flee in His mother’s arms, protected by Joseph the carpenter. Was not this the depth of helplessness?

Much the same could be said of our Savior’s hidden life in Nazareth, where He assisted His family and worked as a common laborer for close to 30 years. Father Mateo explains:

On His return to Nazareth He had to learn a trade. I say “had to” because, unless He displayed miraculous powers and knowledge, He would be obliged to ask questions and accept corrections regarding His task of cutting, sawing, joining pieces of wood. He earned His daily wage by the sweat of His brow, and I imagine — since He wished to be like all of us — that more than once some customer was not quite satisfied and haggled over a few pence with the “Carpenter” Jesus! …

[Father Mateo then adds this prayer]: How beautiful, how sublime it is to contemplate Thee working quickly to gain the daily bread for Joseph and Mary, the Mother of Thy Heart! Thou hast been working since early morning, Thou art weary, yet Thou must finish the work before eventide. The angels could lend Thee a loving hand, but no, that would be unlike our normal life, and Thou hast condemned Thyself to live exactly as we do (p. 117).

[NB: when Fr. Mateo says that Jesus "condemned himself," he uses the hyperbole common in his day for Philippians 2:7. Saint Paul tells us in that passage that by His Incarnation the divine Son "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant"  in other words, He poured Himself out in love for us by coming down from Heaven and sharing completely the human condition].

Fully Human
When He began His public ministry in Galilee, the Son of God did not abandon His commitment to share in the ordinary joys and sorrows, struggles and sufferings of human life. We sometimes think that He shed His human frailty when He left His humble home in Nazareth, and strode out on the public stage to preach about the Kingdom of God, and perform miraculous signs of its coming. On the contrary, the Gospels show us that Jesus remained fully human, sharing in all the natural limitations of the human condition throughout His earthly life. Father Verheylezoon sums up the evidence for us (Devotion to the Sacred Heart, p. 67):

For three years He went about through Galilee and Judea, instructing and training His Apostles, preaching to the people, now in a synagogue, now on the public road, then on some mountain slope, or by the seashore, and even out in the desert. On foot He crossed the country, knowing from His own experience what weariness, hunger and thirst mean. So, one day, He sat down on the brink of Jacob’s well, while His disciples were gone to the city to buy provisions; and He asked the Samaritan woman, who came there to draw water, to give Him to drink (Jn 4:6). And in the boat which carried Him and His Apostles over the Lake of Genesareth He fell asleep with fatigue (Mt 7:23). He was supported by the charity of some ministering followers. He had no home, no patch of ground of His own: “The foxes have holes, and the birds their nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head” (Mt 8:20). He passed the night more often than not under the open sky.

In short, the divine Son manifested His love for humanity by coming among us as one of us, and truly sharing our lot. As Fr. Verheylezoon puts it: “[The divine Son of God] agreed to take to Himself a nature like ours in all things except sin … a nature, therefore, subject like ours to the necessity of sustaining life with food, open to weariness and suffering, and liable to death” (p. 66). As a result, no one understands the human condition better than Jesus our Savior. As the Book of Hebrews tells us, we now have a high priest in heaven who is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” because “in every respect he has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.” As a result, we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15-16).

(1) By punctuating the verse in this way, I have adopted the “Ephesian” reading that seems to fit best with John 19:34-37, and was familiar to many of the early Fathers of the Church. It was also preferred by Pope Ven. Pius XII in Haurietis Aquas. See O’Donnell, Heart of the Redeemer, p. 42-46.

(2) Quoted without reference in James Kubicki, SJ, A Heart of Fire (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 2012), p. 40-41.

This series continues next week with Part 5: The Heart of Jesus Manifest in His Tender Affections and Compassionate Love

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