Are We Secretly Telling Our Lord to Get Out of Town?
The Thirteenth Wednesday of Ordinary Time.
Readings from Cycle II of the feria, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
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9:51 AM 7/2/2014 — When last we left our blessed Lord, he was in the midst of this “magical mystery tour,” performing miracles left and right; and, as promised yesterday, today our Lord encounters two possessed men in the famous Gospel lesson of the Gadarene Swine. Here Jesus exorcises demons from two men, casting the demons into a herd of pigs. What I always found interesting about this episode is that, after he does it, they run him out of town, or, as St. Matthew puts it, “And thereupon all the townspeople went out to meet Jesus; and when they found him, they entreated him to leave their country” (Matt. 8:34). Now, there could be a lot of reasons for that: he is, after all, wandering around the country of the Gadarenes who are Gentiles, which is confirmed by the presence of a herd of pigs, which you would never find in the country of the Jews. So, it’s possible they just didn’t like him because he was a Jew. It’s also possible they didn’t think much of having a whole herd of valuable pork disposed of in such a casual manner. But one commentator I read suggested a more sinister possibility. He suggests:—and I'm quoting him—"The attitude of [the] local people towards this miracle reminds us that meeting God and living a Christian life require us to subordinate personal plans to God’s designs." In other words, if we have a selfish or materialistic outlook we fail to appreciate the value of divine things and push God out of our lives, begging him to go away, as these people did. And I found that to be a very astute observation, because I’ve found—and perhaps you have, too—that even people who pray very much are secretly wishing that God would keep his nose out of it. I think of St. Augustine who, before his conversion, while in the midst of a life of reckless abandonment, prayed to God saying, “God, give me chastity, but not yet.”
We want things from God. We want relief from our sufferings; we want an end to our troubles; we want to enjoy good health; we want family harmony; we want success in our relationships; and God is not adverse to giving us these things. But that’s not all you get when you haggle with God. When you accept Christ into your life, your whole life changes, or at least it should. This is what our Lord meant when he said, “If you would be my disciple, you must deny yourself, take up your cross every day, and follow me.” In other words, it’s a package deal: the price is that you give yourself completely to him. And there are a lot of us who don’t want that deal. I remember when I was first ordained chatting with one of the neighbors who lived in the house behind the church, and she was chewing my ear off about all of her problems, and why doesn’t God ever listen to her prayers. And as it turned out she wasn’t practicing any religion at all with any regularity, and had lived with a succession of men, both in and out of marriage, not unlike the woman our Lord met at Jacob's Well. And here she’s wondering why God has not come to her rescue. She wants the benefits of a relationship with Christ, but she doesn’t want the relationship itself, because any relationship—including a relationship with God—is a two way street. It’s like a man who finds a nice girl who loves him, but he only wants what he can get from her, and he’s not interested in any kind of commitment to her. So he strings her along and takes what he wants without giving her the kind of security and protection that that kind of relationship implies, until he’s used her to the point that she just loses patience.
Well, our Lord Jesus Christ is very patient. But he is not milquetoast. He certainly is willing to forgive us when we go astray, particularly in the Sacrament of Penance. But even the forgiveness we receive in confession implies an effort to change. But if we’re continually praying to God for this or that, but aren't making any effort to live a life that conforms to his plan as found in the Gospel and the teachings of the Church and of the Fathers, then what’s in it for him? How long can we reasonably expect God to go on watching over us, protecting us, comforting us, simply because we come to church, but continue to reject him in the living of our lives? And when our lives are over, and a decision must be made regarding the final disposition of our souls, what will we have to show in return for all we have received from God? Will we not say something like, “Well, I knew what Christ wanted, but it was too much for me to handle; I did the best I could.” Will we really have done our best? Or will we have simply convinced ourselves that what we were willing to do was our best, when, in fact, we never really knew what our best was because we never really tried?
The Gadarenes had to be impressed by our Lord casting out demons and helping these men that no one else could help. But they understood the implications of his presence among them; and, while they were happy for the two men who were now free from their demons, they weren’t willing to give anything in return; so they asked him to leave. Which he did. God forbid that any of us, who have received so much from our Lord, would ask him to leave.