Monday, January 29, 2018

On Demons, Pigs, Rock Throwers and Jesus

The Gospel today at Mass relates a remarkable event.  A man possessed by demons is convulsing before the Lord.  As the Lord prepares to cast the demons out of the man, the demons beg to remain.  They ask if the Lord would cast them into a herd of nearby swine instead of banishing them outright. As soon as they enter the swine, the swine--two thousand in number--cast themselves off of a cliff.  The previously possessed man, however, is free.  What always strikes me about this Gospel is what happens next. The townspeople, who have come out to investigate all that has occurred, hear the stories of the witnesses and they see the previously possessed man free and acting normally. Their reaction?  They beg Jesus to go away.  In the sight of such extraordinary Divine Action, they ask Jesus to go away.

In the first reading today, we hear about King David who is having a pretty bad day. His own son has turned against him and is seeking to destroy him. David flees with a handful of his men lest they fall into the hands of his son and be killed. As they are fleeing, some angry guy starts throwing rocks at David and cursing him. I think we've all had days or weeks like this.  Just when you think your day couldn't get any worse, you now have some dude calling you names and throwing rocks at you! David's men want to kill the guy. Solve the problem and move on.  But David's reaction is interesting. He decides to let this guy continue to humiliate him. David says, "Perhaps the Lord will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day." And so, David continues down the road and endures the taunts and the abuses heaped upon him by this angry and bitter guy.

In both readings, people are trying to get rid of the reality in front of them. In the Gospel, they try to get rid of Jesus. In the first reading, they try to get rid of a nuisance. Sometimes in the spiritual life--when we experience the power of God--we can become afraid and we beg him to go away from us. This is always a mistake. When we hear his voice calling out to us, offering us the grace to turn away from sin, to be freed from our burdens, to be his disciples, to be holier . . . when we have those moments when we know that we have witnessed the power of God . . . even if our inclination is to run, this is the moment to stay with him. Even if we see that there is a cost--like an entire herd of swine--we should trust in Jesus' presence and power.

Similarly, sometimes we can feel like David walking along the road and being menaced by some annoyance, temptation, weakness, or enemy. Like David's soldiers, we might be tempted to cut off the head and be done with it. But King David shows us something different. He recognizes that perhaps enduring this maniacal rock thrower's taunts and tirades might actually bring about God's blessings. Maybe God allows this annoyance into King David's life so that--through it--God will eventually bless David even more.

Whether we are experiencing at a given moment the awesome power of God or the sufferings of the world, let's ask for the grace to remain in the moment. Let's not beg God to leave us, and let's not be too quick about dispatching our enemies. Today, many of us hear these readings at Mass. We come to the place where Divine Power and Human Suffering meet, the Cross. May this Holy Sacrifice set us free from our enemies, but on God's timeline and by His power, and not our own.

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