3 Nephi 9:19-20 — LeGrand Baker — broken heart and contrite spirit
None of the ideas the Savior expressed when he spoke to the people would have been new or strange to those who heard them. After identifying himself, the Savior gave two sets of instructions. Both had to do with the temple and both may readily be seen as instructions to help participants prepare for the final acts of the Feast of Tabernacles temple drama. He said:
19 And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings.
20 And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit…. (3 Nephi 9:19-20).
The Savior had just reminded them of two psalms that were used in their Feast of Tabernacles temple service: :
18 The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart;
and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18).
16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it:
thou delightest not in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:
a broken and a contrite heart, O God,
thou wilt not despise (Psalm 51:16-17).
To sacrifice does not mean to lose something or to give it away; rather, it means to set something apart, to remove it from the profane and make it sacred. An example is tithing. Tithing is a sacrifice in that it is set apart to be used for sacred purposes. If one is to sacrifice a broken heart and contrite spirit, it does not mean that these things are somehow to be lost to ourselves, but rather that they are to be made sacred. The Hebrew word translated “broken” means the same as the English word. For example, if two pots are sitting on a shelf, one an earthen pot and the other made of plastic, and something bumps the shelf and causes them to fall, the plastic one will bounce, but the clay pot will shatter. The difference is not the height from which they fall, nor the floor they hit, but their ability to maintain their structure. The plastic pot stays as it was, the earthen pot is not a pot any more.
In the ancient world, the heart is the cosmic center of the human being. It is the seat of both one’s intellect and of one’s emotions. That is easy to understand because when we learn something excitingly new, we do not feel the idea in our head, but in our heart, just as we feel all emotions in our chest area.(That is true of all emotions except pity or empathy. If you saw a puppy hit by a car, you would feel it right in the pit of your stomach. Thus the phrase, “the bowels of mercy.”)
The plastic pot is as one whose attitudes, preconceptions, and prejudices are well established and will not change, like a kind of spiritual and intellectual rigor mortis. The earthen pot is as one who is still alive—whose mind is still open to new ideas and who has cleansed his emotions from the debility of prejudice. It is one who can see the world—and more especially the people in it—as God sees them, as they really are in sacred time. Thus the clay pot is broken, but its little pieces might be put together and restructured into something different. A broken heart is like that—subject to becoming different from what it was before.
The word contrite is usually taken to mean downcast, or humble, but the meaning is much larger than that. The Hebrew and English words mean the same thing: to rub, to pulverize, or turn to powder. It is what a hammer would do to the clay pot, or what a new shoe would do to one’s heel during a long hike. It is not something the pot can do to itself because it can only be done by some external force.
The spirit is the spirit—it is the Self that animates and gives life to the body. For one’s spirit to be contrite, it must be hurt by others. For one’s sacrifice to be a contrite spirit, one must willingly take upon oneself the pain and sorrow of other people. An example might be when one hears a juicy bit of gossip and does not pass it on. Or when Junior comes home and tells dad he has just mashed the car. The Dad might dump the whole burden of the situation—its guilt and its costs—upon the boy, or he might put his arm around his son and say something like, “Did I ever tell you about the time I did that to my dad’s car?” In the latter case, the father does not take away the responsibility, but he does take upon himself the burden of the guilt and the hurt. The car can be dealt with after the pain is gone.
A broken heart might be likened to the Savior on the cross when all of his earthly and physical desires were subordinated to his need to die and accomplish the resurrection. A contrite spirit was when the Savior suffered for all of us in Gethsemane.
In short, what the Savior requires of us is the same sacrifice that he made—but a sacrifice that is within the limits of our ability. To sacrifice one’s Self is to set one’s Self apart from the world and make one sacred. The sacrifice is accomplished when our preconceptions and prejudices are opened to the Savior’s light so we see that others have real value and we extend our Selves to try to take away some of the hurt this world imposes upon them. To make that sacrifice is to open one’s Self to the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise:
26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Then will the prayer of the psalms be made reality:
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God;
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence;
and take not thy holy spirit from me.
12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;
and uphold me with thy free spirit (Psalm 51:10-12).
That was all taken from Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, second (paperback) edition, “3 Nephi 12:8 – Pure in Heart,” 670-79.