When was the last time you read a book that made you cry? Or if you haven’t read any tear-jerker lately, what was the last movie that moved you to tears?
The last book I read that reduced me to tears surprised me because it did that not just once, but several times–and so strongly that I had to put it down each time–was Fr. Greg Boyle SJ’s Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. It’s not just one story, but a collection of real-life stories of former gang members that Fr. Boyle met through his intervention program called Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles County.
It’s the kind of book that not only breaks your heart, but as Fr. Michael Harter, another Jesuit writer, loves to put it, also leaves your heart “broken open.” It’s when our heart is broken open that we allow the Spirit of God to enter into it.
Tragic but also funny, sad but also joyful, Fr. Boyle’s words touched my heart so deeply, breaking it open and as a result, showed me how we can indeed find God in what may seem like the worst of lives and most remarkably, what may seem like the worst of men.
I remembered that book because a couple of our readings today are about words that touch the heart. In the First Reading, Ezra the scribe and priest has led a group of Jewish exiles back from Babylon to their home in Jerusalem. To them he reintroduces the Torah or the Law of Moses. Upon the people’s request, he reads to them from the Book of the Law of Moses from morning to mid-day–that’s about six hours!
How do the people respond? They weep! They are moved to tears not only because it has been such a long while since the last time they heard the Word of God, but also because they are filled with sorrow over their sins and shortcomings. They have allowed their hearts to be broken open, and through its open door–and only through that open door–does the Spirit of God enter their hearts and invite them to conversion. You see, one of God’s idiosyncrasies is His adamant refusal to force His way into any human heart. He will enter our heart only when we ourselves open its door.
The problem with our heart, however, is that because the world too often seems so hostile and hurtful, we almost always make sure its door is tightly shut and even locked–just to play it safe. Keeping an open heart–that’s certainly not our default. As a result, more often not, our Lord stands outside the door of our hearts, waiting for us to open the door.
There is a famous painting by Holman Hunt called “The Light of the World,” where Jesus is shown knocking on a door, lamp in hand, but the door has no visible lock. It is the door of the human heart, and the door can be unlocked only from the inside. The Lord can bring his light into our hearts only if we ourselves open the door and let him in. Until then all he can really do is wait.
We see the Lord doing just that in today’s Gospel. Our Lord goes back to his hometown, Nazareth, and there in the synagogue, surrounded by family and friends he has actually grown up with, he reads Isaiah’s beautiful words to them: the promise of the Messiah, the poor hearing the good news, the prisoners being liberated, and the blind recovering their sight. He rolls up the scroll and looks at them straight in the eye to declare boldly that as sure as they are sitting there, this ancient promise is fulfilled. Then he waits for their response.
Does his audience, his family and friends, do so with an open heart? Do they allow their hearts to be broken open? We won’t know until next week. The Church has effectively given us a cliff-hanger ending this week. Perhaps there is a reason for that. Perhaps the Church wants us to ask ourselves first: Do we, the Lord’s other audience, his listeners today, respond with an open heart? Do we allow our hearts to be broken open?
So how can we open the door of our heart? How can we have it broken open? The clue is found in the words of our Lord when he tells the people in the synagogue, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Only when we believe that what we are reading or hearing are words that God directs not to some previous generation, but to us, here and now, can our hearts be broken open and our lives eventually transformed. Without this fundamental faith that these ancient words written by men truly constitute God’s Word and carry His message for me today, the door of my heart will be closed and the Lord will remain shut out of my heart. Faith in the Lord and in the power and relevance of His Word today is the key that will unlock our hearts.
One question that we may want to ask ourselves today is: “Do I really believe that God has something to say to me today through the readings from Scripture–even those that I’ve heard and read so often before?” Only with such a faith can we listen to God’s Word and receive His message. For we hear God’s voice only with the door of our hearts flung wide open.