- Hebrews 11:32-40
- Psalm 31:20-24 (Responsorial)
- Luke 7:16 (Alleluia)
- Mark 5:1-20
When they reached Jesus, they found the possessed man sitting there, clothed and restored to his wits, and they were overcome with fear.
This story is found in all three synoptics (Matthew 8 and Luke 8 as well). It was important in all the communities of the Church that gave us the inspired texts of Jesus’ life. It tells the story of all of us, does it not?
Sin is the destruction of relationship. It starts with the loss of relationship with God, but in the end, abandoning all connection with others, the power of evil even destroys its own self. (For self can only exist in communion.) If our sins are lacks of charity, or lacks of chastity, lack of honesty or lack of courage, they all drive us away, eventually, from all communion, from all selfhood. It does not matter how it is set up: that’s how it works. Even when we think our sins are making it easier for us to “relate” to people (drugs, sex, alcohol, etc) when we misuse the gifts God has given us we are not building, but rather tearing down.
And none of us has only one, let’s be honest. One may be known as a great “Ladies’ Man” or whatever term is useful for your sex and sexual preferences, but one is probably thus a liar, and prone to act uncharitably, to objectify women, to manipulate them. One may thus be ungenerous and greedy, one may be mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually abusive, one may even be a glutton and slothful. And all of these growing out of one’s addiction to the hormonal rush that floods the brain at orgasm. One may be a thief and not the romantic bank-heist sort, but just the sort who plays on the internet at work: stealing time and money from one’s employer. How trustworthy is that person in other areas? How duplicitous? None of this comes with a judgement: if you know me, I try only to discuss my own sins.
So we are all legion. And we are all the man possessed by Legion. And we are tormented by different voices within us, by demands that have nothing to do with “the one thing needful”, and by desires that are not our own yet we are driven to fulfil. And if we come to him – even screaming and foaming at the mouth – Jesus will cast them out. I think of how many times I came to Jesus asking him to bless me in my sins, to find me a companion in my sin. One addict would love to live with another, right? But as there is no honor among thieves, so, too, other sins eventually are their own destruction.
And as in our story, the locals around us are just freaking terrified of what has happened – the swine (symbols of impurity in the Jewish world) run away, the swineherds (think teachers of heresy and impurity) run away, then the townspeople – all of whom, like all of us, have their own legions – beg Jesus to leave. Jesus is really good when he’s needed for your politics. He’s useful as a political punchline for both the left and the right yet please don’t force his morals on me. “Go and sin no more” is a difficult commandment. And healing some sinner somewhere near me means only that I look all the worse. Jesus go away. Not only do I not want your salvation – please don’t save any of my peeps.
But when they come to toss out the troublemaker, they find the guy sitting there clothed and in his right mind. That means that Jesus has put everything back in the right order which is: God first. Others. Loving God and serving others becomes my desire. When things are restored, then I am in communion with God and with others, that is, I’m finally clothed and in my right mind. I have put on the new man and have had a metanoia. But wait! There’s more!
So he embarked on the boat; and as he did so the man who had been possessed was eager to go with him, but Jesus would not give him leave; Go home to thy friends, he said, and tell them all that the Lord has done for thee, and what great mercy he shewed thee.
We have a job to do: we cannot sit at Jesus feet forever. We cannot go with him when he leaves. I may spend 1 hour (or 16-20 hours) in church every week, but that’s nothing if I’m not preaching the Gospel – spreading the kingdom. I’m not serving God if all I’m doing is feeling safe from the world. I have to go and be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. I have to be doing the Love of God, preaching the advance of his kingdom.