“Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.” — Ann Landers, advice columnist
Do a web search and you’ll find a lot of people have appropriated Ms. Landers’ quote and weaponized it into a meme. Bragging about breaking into and entering precious space in the brain of someone one hates is the ultimate victory. After all, resentment is an online bully’s favorite battering ram.
But what if we were to do a complete renovation of that meme? In Christian tradition, offering someone a place to live is a sign of love, not hate. This Sunday’s mass readings are about opening our heart for rent-free occupancy. Sometimes we open that door reluctantly, or we may even conjure the courage to let someone break it down without worrying about the consequences. Sunday’s first reading (2 Kgs 4:8-11, 14-16a) offers a prophet’s take on how breaking and entering of the heart works:
One day Elisha came to Shunem, where there was a woman of influence, who urged him to dine with her. Afterward, whenever he passed by, he used to stop there to dine. So she said to her husband, “I know that Elisha is a holy man of God. Since he visits us often, let us arrange a little room on the roof and furnish it for him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp, so that when he comes to us he can stay there.”
Elisha’s visits answered that woman’s prayers. She couldn’t bear the vacancy in her family. The prophet rewarded her for the courageous surrender of her heart:
Elisha promised, “This time next year you will be fondling a baby son.”
Opening your heart for occupancy can have harsh consequences. What if the invader breaks up the place? What if that person infects it with the kind of hate that inspired Ann Landers’ meme? Counter such fear with this meme from Wil Shakespeare:
“Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Shakespeare didn’t leave much room in his heart for religion, but his meme seems divinely inspired. Sunday’s second reading gives us some Shakespearian-sounding advice via St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (Rom 6:3-4, 8-11):
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
Someone who opens their heart to Jesus rent-free redesigns this space for unlimited occupancy. In fact that person is actually subletting their tract of the infinite space he or she has occupied in God’s heart since birth. As Sunday’s gospel reading about the commissioning of the 12 apostles shows (Mt 10:37-42), opening one’s heart to the kind of love Christ inspired requires the courage to leave it open for a continuous stream of occupants—not just immediate family, but relatives you didn’t even know you had:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. … Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
Unconditional love can be a heavy cross to bear, but it strengthens one’s heart, giving it unlimited capacity. That’s the price we must pay for rent-free occupancy in the Kingdom of God.