Tuesday, July 04, 2017

The Lord Hears the Cry of the Poor

God heard [Ishmael’s] cry, and God's messenger called to Hagar from heaven: "What is the matter, Hagar? Don't be afraid; God has heard the boy's cry in this plight of his. Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation." Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went and filled the skin with water, and then let the boy drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. Genesis 21:17-20A

When Jesus came to the territory of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs who were coming from the tombs met him. They were so savage that no one could travel by that road. They cried out, "What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?" Matthew 8:28-29

If it doesn't take you out of your comfort zone, it's not a cross, it's a crutch. #discipleship (by Maryknoll Missioners @MaryknollFrsBrs)

As we contemplate the births and identities of Isaac and Ishmael, the events in Genesis bring to mind Luke’s birth narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus. The banishment of Hagar and Ishmael resolve the conflicts between the identities of Abraham’s two sons. Identity conflicts also come out in the Gospel of Matthew.

In yesterday’s Good News, Jesus calmed a violent (dare we say “demonic”?) storm on the Sea of Galilee that threatened to kill him and his traveling companions – potentially leaving their bodies floating in the lake. The after-effects of that storm pushed the boat across to the shores on the other side.  That episode ends with a critical question on the identity of Jesus (“The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”). Today’s Gospel attempts to answer that question.

When Jesus got out of the boat, two demoniacs coming from the cemetery met him. Matthew tells us that these men were “so savage that no one could travel by that road.” Nonetheless, Jesus walked right up to them.  (after all, he keeps saying “Do not be afraid.”) 

The very first question posed by the two men shows no doubt on their part about what sort of man they are encountering: “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?” The disciples, who walked throughout the land with Jesus, showed a serious lack of first-hand knowledge about the true identity of their miracle-making Teacher. However, the two demoniacs knew exactly who they were encountering as soon as they met Jesus on the road clearly identifying him as the Son of Man. The identity of the Son of God is then publicly established and displayed further by Jesus’ power to command the departure and banishment of the spirit of Satan into the herd of pigs (whose dead bodies end up floating on the Sea of Galilee where a little while earlier, a storm-tossed boat threatened to do the same to Jesus and his companions).  

However, while Jesus’ identity is resolved somewhat in the second episode, the people remain in fear and ask Jesus to go away.  Despite the repeated instances where Jesus tells people “Do not be afraid,” neither his disciples nor his neighbors take that to heart. The only – and unlikely – people at this stage who seem to recognize Jesus for his true self are the Centurion seeking a cure for his servant and the two men possessed by Satan.

The people whom you would think recognize Jesus don’t.  They people whom you would think would reject Jesus actually seem him for exactly the person he is. Who is Jesus and what is he asking of you?

As Melanie noted in yesterday’s reflection, this summer, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops convened a gathering of key leaders from dioceses and Catholic organizations from all across the country in order to assess the challenges and opportunities of our time, particularly in the context of the Church in the United States. This has been an ongoing initiative of the Bishops' Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Person. The gathering assembled Catholic leaders for a strategic conversation, under the leadership of the bishops, on forming missionary disciples to animate the Church and to engage the culture.

We tend to look at the Church through our own ideological lens:  progressives v traditionalists.  People on the left and the right seem to be opposed to seeing or seeking common ground on issues like the death penalty, abortion, social activism, and pacifism. Everyone wants to define the Church rather than letting the Joy of the Gospel define it for us. 

When Mother Teresa was asked what should be done to promote world peace, she famously said: “Go home and love your family.” Instead of constantly thinking about Catholic identity through the lens of the national political stage, maybe we should begin making life revolve around our parish, and think about our Catholic identity more through the liturgical calendar than through the election calendar. Let’s resolve in the second half of this year to live out our faith in “ordinary” ways—being more patient and forgiving to people around us.

It is interesting to note the second question the demoniacs pose to Jesus: ”Have you come here to torment us?”

My guess is that Jesus would answer a resounding yes no matter who asked that question.  The answer brings to mind a recent message from Maryknoll: If it doesn't take you out of your comfort zone, it's not a cross, it's a crutch. #discipleship

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