Sunday, August 20, 2023

Guarding The Keys to Our Hearts

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Readings: Isaiah 56:1, 6-7; Psalm 66 (67):2-3, 5-6, 8; Romans 11:13-15, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Picture: By Fa Barboza on Unsplash

My dear friends, how do people fall in love? Of course, I myself can’t claim to have extensive experience in such matters. But in the movies, there are two ways. Often, it happens all at once. Like when Jack catches sight of Rose on the Titanic. As though struck by lightning, the poor guy is suddenly smitten, never to be the same again. But there’s also that classic scene from Fiddler on the Roof, where a man irritates his wife of 25 years, by asking if she loves him. And it’s only as she recalls how she has spent the last 25 years caring for him in many routine ways, that she realises she does, in fact, love her husband. To fall in love is to hand over the key to one’s heart to someone else. And this can happen all at once or gradually, consciously or even imperceptibly.

Which helps us ponder two nagging questions that the gospel leaves unanswered. First, why is Jesus so rude to the Canaanite woman? He ignores her, then insults her, before finally giving her what she wants. Different explanations are possible. The one I like takes into account where Jesus is, and why he’s there. We’re told that Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And the reason the Lord retreats into gentile territory, is because his teaching had offended the Jewish authorities (Mt 15:12). But if he was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, then isn’t Jesus in the wrong place? And wouldn’t he be busy figuring out when and how he might return to the right one? If so, then perhaps his apparent rudeness is simply the result of being preoccupied with his mission. A sign that Jesus has handed over the key to his heart to the One who sent him.

And can’t we say the same about St Paul? Although troubled by the disobedience of his fellow Israelites, he still takes pride in being sent to the pagans as their apostle. Isn’t Paul’s fidelity to his mission a sign of his love for Christ? Just as the Canaanite woman’s persistence is a sign of her love for her daughter. A love that brings her to Jesus. Allowing her to claim the salvation promised, in the first reading, to all foreigners who cling to (God’s) covenant. Salvation not just for herself, but for her tormented daughter as well.

Which leads us to the second troubling question: How did the woman’s daughter come to be tormented? In another translation, she is possessed. But isn’t possession also a handing over of the key to one’s heart? If so, then, like falling in love, possession too can happen all at once or gradually, consciously or even imperceptibly. Either way, one ends up placing one’s heart and one’s life in the wrong hands. And doesn’t a similar risk haunt our children even today? Exposed as they are, for example, to online influences that are unwholesome, if not downright sinister? And, whether or not we are parents, is there any better way to safeguard our children, than for us all to hand over the keys of our hearts to Christ? To share in his mission of spreading the Good News?

Sisters and brothers, if both love and possession are truly more similar than we usually realise, then what steps are we taking to fall and remain in love with the Lord today?

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