4th Sunday B  –   God’s Spirit and Our Demons

A casual and unreflective reading of this Gospel could leave the impression that it’s just another healing miracle. It could lead us to think of those who are sick and in need of our prayers for divine help. And that’s always good, but it misses the point. This gospel story is about the conflict of good and evil, God and Satan. The location is not the desert where Jesus had engaged Satan for 40 days but the synagogue gathering for worship on the Sabbath Day.  In the midst of the worshippers there is a man with an evil spirit. He is not physically sick. He is shouting and objecting to Jesus being present. Are evil spirits around during Sunday worship? Absolutely, but in a subtle and effective manner. Commenting in The Furrow (April 1974) on why people were abandoning Sunday Mass, the late Fr Michael Paul Gallagher named three areas in which such spirits thrive: authoritarian religion, dull Sunday rituals and boring sermons. The devil in the details! His analysis shocked complacent Catholic Ireland at the time. Have things improved in the last 47 years?

In Jesus’ time, the ability to name a person indicated authority. The demon in the synagogue tried to oust Jesus by calling him the Holy One of God, his true name. Surprisingly, turning the tables, it was the demon that Jesus’ authority ousted from the man. The story is a metaphor for how Jesus’ call to ‘repent and believe the Good News’ – basic gospel and Christianity – works its way through the lives of those who believe. We don’t know how the demon of evil got into this man, but we know there’s a spiritual warfare raging in each of us: hatred v. love, greed v. generosity, selfishness v. compassion, envy v. admiration, nursing a grudge versus forgiveness…. The late Fr Henry Nouwen saw the fundamental battle between good and evil in the human heart as between being convinced we are loved unconditionally by God versus not being convinced or being fearful that we are not.

Fr Ron Rolheiser wrote in one of his columns that being possessed by a demon ‘is like being possessed by a power that’s beyond us and that overcomes our will – such as an overpowering addiction to drugs or alcohol for example. Most of us are not overwhelmed to that extent, but each of us battles with his or her demons’. We become overpowered and possessed by something when our lives get out of control and become unmanageable, and when we feel unable to do anything about it. That’s when we need to put our powerlessness into the more powerful hands of the Holy One of God. God is ever-present and available at every level of human life, high or low, productive or wasted. Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh reminds us of the living God who is always out there, with or without us, available to people in the most unlikely situations: ‘God is down in the swamps and marshes … a humble scene in a backward place, where no one important ever looked … That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God was breathing his love by a cut-away bog’ – THE ONE, (The Complete Poems), p. 291.


Fr. QQ – 1/27/2021

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