Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sermons from the Mount

So, we have a new priest in our parish, and I, on my Baptism day, July 2 (a Tuesday), attended Mass. The readings were as far apart as one could imagine, both in style (Amos was exhorting ["Seek good and not evil, that you may live!"] to Matthew's story-telling) and in density, but somehow, in a 15-second homily, it all came together for me. Father's homily was this:

Hm, what were the Jews doing herding swine? And why did they ask Jesus to leave, rather than thank him for casting out the demons?

That was his entire homily.



But then I reflected on the words of the homily and the readings, and was grateful for the first reading being Amos. Did the Jews seek good? No. They were eating pork, even against the threat of Mosaic law (the death penalty). Why was the Mosaic law in place? To scare people? No, poorly prepared pork is a excellent transmitter of all sorts of dangerous things — the law was there to protect the people from the evil caused by eating pork.

But, there they were, herding swine. In fact, they were "happier" with their swine and a demon affliction than playing goody-two-shoes. So "happy" in fact that Jesus' act of saving the man from the horde, and removing the evil of the swine, caused so much discontent that they asked Jesus to take his business elsewhere. They were choosing evil, and not good.

Don't we all do that when we choose wrong over right, our pleasure over God's, evil over good. "Man, I really shouldn't be doing this, but, if I do it out of sight of everybody else, then I can get away with it. ... God, go look somewhere else, will'ya? Dontcha got flood victims to console, or something?"

But let's be honest, shall we? When we do bad things, are we happy? In another (much longer) homily, Father started by saying, "You know, I don't think the Pope wakes up in the morning and wonders, 'Now, how can I make life hard for all Catholics today?'" No, God has all these rules because He knows what makes us happy and He knows what's bad for us. 4000 years ago, swine was a good way to take a short-cut through life. Today, alcoholism, licentiousness, gluttony, secularism, etc, are the new swine, and our addictions, really, give us no pleasure (have you seen a happy alcoholic? Aren't the most pitiful words in the world: "But I'm only happy when I'm drunk!") and these evils we choose lead to death, because we cover them in our dark corner with our bodies, and in so doing, literally, turn our backs to God.

It's funny, reconciliation is just as Amos exhorted us, we simply turn from the evils in our lives, those dark things that give us no pleasure, and the second we do that, God is standing right there with arms wide open, and the comfort we get from Him, even though we're the second robber on a tree right next to His, makes us not even remember to puzzle over what enticed us to that damned foolish pursuit in the first place.

Here's the chilling thought for me, however. The demon horde plagued the village (in their possession of the man) because the Jews knowingly trafficted in the forbidden. The demons were punishing the fallen in their sin. Then the demons begged Jesus to cast them into the swine, and when they possessed the swine herd, they immediately drove themselves off the edge of a cliff into the sea, removing two evils (themselves and the swine) with one act, leaving the people there with an entirely clean slate to make the choice of Amos. They chose evil, again.

So, then, are the demons serving God better than us? What does this mean for us?

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