Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Gadarenes

I have always been fascinated with the Gospel story read today at Holy Mass.(Matt 8:28-34) Jesus encounters two men possessed by demons.They scream in torment and the devils locked in the duo's psyches', petition to be cast into nearby swine. "Go then," Jesus said, and the newly possessed pigs cast themselves into the sea and drown. The swineherds are aghast as they see their pork belly investment sink into oblivion. And so in their outrage, they "begged Jesus," as Matthew tells us, "to leave their district."

A couple of things here. First of all, in our enlightened age, do we need to believe that demons exist, much less take possession of someone? I have talked with priests who have witnessed more than these swineherds from Gadara, so that it leads me to say "yes" to both. In theological circles, a distinction, however, is made between outright possession and simple obsession. The former is rare; the latter much more common.

Secondly, anytime Jesus is in the neighborhood, you can expect things to happen. The Gospels attest to it. And today, those who are committed to Christocentric Gospel living, can also attest to it. The Christian makes the worldly man uncomfortable and like the Gadarenes, they love to see him move on.

The American poet laureate, Richard Wilbur, wrote this wonderful poem on this text from Matthew:

Rabbi, we Gadarenes
Are not ascetics;we are fond of wealth and possessions.
Love, as you call it, we obviate by means
Of the planned release of aggressions.

We have deep Faith in prosperity.
Soon, it is hoped, we will reach our full potential.
In the light of our gross national product,
The practice of charity
Is palpably inessential.

It is true that we go insane;
That for no good reason we are possessed
By Devils;
That we suffer, despite the amenities which obtain
At all but the lowest levels.

We shall not, however, resign
Our trust in the high-heaped table
And full trough.
If you cannot cure us without destroying our swine,
We had rather you shoved off.

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