The Primacy of Persons over Pigs and Pride, Fourth Monday (II), February 3, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Blaise, Bishop and Martyr
February 3, 2014
2 Sam 15:13-14.30;16:6-13, Ps 3, Mk 5:1-20

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today’s Gospel is about more than one more dramatic exorcism from Jesus. It points to something that needs to be exorcised from all of us in every age. After Jesus frees this man from a legion of demons — and a legion in the Roman army was 600 troops — by casting them into a herd of 2,000 pigs who, now possessed, ran off a cliff and drowned in the Sea of Galilee, the people of that pagan region of the Gerasenes didn’t rejoice at the liberation of the man who used to gouge himself with stones, break chains that attempted to bind him, and terrorize the people of the region; they didn’t come to Jesus to ask him likewise to free the other possessed people in the region, or to cure their sick or to teach them; instead, they asked him to leave their region. Jesus was bad for business. They worried that if he stayed he might next endanger their sheep, too, or their grain, or other aspects of their livelihood. They essentially cared more for the swine they had lost than the brother they had gained.
  • This is not a problem just for ancients. Still today, people can give possessions primacy over people, allowing people to be disturbed, even possessed, as long as their possessions are left undisturbed. Pope Francis wrote about this in his recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “How can it be that it is not a news item,” he asks, “when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” For many people, the stock market is more important than people dying through neglect. And this is one of the greatest ways the devil seeks to possess multitudes, through the concupiscence of the eyes or materialism. We remember the way he tempted Jesus in the desert to set his sights on material bread, turning a stone hewn and covered by desert sands to resemble bread into bread, to become a baker instead of a savior, to focus on his stomach more than his soul, on himself more than God. But Jesus refused saying we live on more than bread, but by every word that comes from God’s mouth.
  • People are more important than things and we must remember this and live by it. We’re in a culture today in which if a human being is still very much alive but in a persistent vegetative state that many think that we need to let the person die in order to save more money for the care of others, but what this really means is to make profits for some by allowing people to die. It’s to put things before love, possessions before people. And when possessions become dominant, we ask Jesus to leave, because Jesus is constantly telling us to treat the poor the way we would treat him. And if we would ignore a man’s dying of exposure or resent rather than rejoice at a possessed man’s liberation what we’re essentially saying is we don’t care if Jesus were to die of exposure or if Jesus were to be gashing himself with stones — attitudes that already show that we don’t want to have room for Jesus, we really don’t want him to stay.
  • We see a similar objective and subjective dehumanization at work in what’s pointed to by today’s first reading. On Saturday, we heard God through Nathan tell King David that the sword would never depart from his house and today we see how David’s son Absalom, many years after David’s quadruple sin, raised the sword to try to take his father’s kingdom. It would have been very easy for King David to have responded to the betrayal of his son with anger and pride. He could have said, “I have killed people by the tens of thousands and defeated Goliath. I am the greatest warrior and general in the history of this nation and have forgotten ten times more than Absalom and his partisans will ever learn about warfare. I’ll teach my son and every other insurrectionist a lesson they’ll never forget.” But he didn’t do this. His son was more important than his kingdom. He realized that if he put up resistance in Jerusalem, many innocent citizens would end up losing their lives, and he recognized that their lives were more important than his kingdom. He recognized that Absalom’s betrayal was a penance for David’s betrayal of God many years earlier. He entrusted himself to God and left the city in penitential fashion, with his head covered and his feet exposed. Even when Shimei started to curse and stone David along the path out of the city and Abishai asked David for the permission to “lop off his head,” David refused, because that person’s life was more important than David’s pride. David simply entrusted himself and his fate to God. How much civil rulers need to learn from this example. Over the course of history and still today, people have been repeatedly used as pawns in their ruler’s disputes. When rulers’ pride or possessions are threatened, they have declared war on each other, not even knowing the names of the soldiers who will die defending their honor, not knowing the mothers who will weep for their sons, the wives who will weep for their husbands, the children who will mourn their slain fathers.
  • Pope Francis pondered this point this morning in his homily at the Domus Sanctae Marthae. He said that because David was such a brilliant man of government and and war, he knew that a war against Absalom in Jerusalem would be  brutal and many would die. So he made a choice to save his people, so that they and the city wouldn’t be destroyed. His first attitude, the Pope said, “in defending himself was not to use either God or his people, something that indicates the love of this king for God and his people. He was a sinful king — we know his story — but also a king with a very great love. He was so attached to Go and to his people that we wouldn’t use either God or his people for his own benefit. In the ugliest moments of life it can happen that in desperation one tries to defend himself as he can by using God or others, but David didn’t do this.” God was more important that his pride and possessions. People were more important than his pride and possessions.
  • Finally, today we come to the Saint that we celebrate, Saint Blaise, Bishop and Martyr. He was also distinguished by the individual care he gave the people of his Diocese of Sebastea in ancient Armenia (now part of modern-day Turkey). After Mass today there will be a special blessing through St. Blaise’s intercession of all people so that God may free them of illnesses of the throat and all other maladies. This goes back to the care St. Blaise gave to a boy who was choking because of a fish bone. After all human means had failed, St. Blaise prayed that God would free the boy and God did. The boy survived. And people have been turning to St. Blaise ever since. This devotion shows God’s specific care for individual illnesses. None of us is a number. Each of us is so loved by God that he allowed his Son to be brutally murdered and killed to save our life. But he calls us in that love to love others in the same way, to love them more than possessions, more than pigs, more than pride. Through the intercession of St. Blaise Bishop and Martyr, may God free us from the evil of being possessed by our possessions, from being dominated by our pride, so that like the exorcised man at the end of the Gospel, we may go out to proclaim in ten cities or more what the Lord has done for us in his mercy!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
2 SM 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13

An informant came to David with the report,
“The children of Israel have transferred their loyalty to Absalom.”
At this, David said to all his servants
who were with him in Jerusalem:
“Up! Let us take flight, or none of us will escape from Absalom.
Leave quickly, lest he hurry and overtake us,
then visit disaster upon us and put the city to the sword.”As David went up the Mount of Olives, he wept without ceasing.
His head was covered, and he was walking barefoot.
All those who were with him also had their heads covered
and were weeping as they went.

As David was approaching Bahurim,
a man named Shimei, the son of Gera
of the same clan as Saul’s family,
was coming out of the place, cursing as he came.
He threw stones at David and at all the king’s officers,
even though all the soldiers, including the royal guard,
were on David’s right and on his left.
Shimei was saying as he cursed:
“Away, away, you murderous and wicked man!
The LORD has requited you for all the bloodshed in the family of Saul,
in whose stead you became king,
and the LORD has given over the kingdom to your son Absalom.
And now you suffer ruin because you are a murderer.”
Abishai, son of Zeruiah, said to the king:
“Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?
Let me go over, please, and lop off his head.”
But the king replied: “What business is it of mine or of yours,
sons of Zeruiah, that he curses?
Suppose the LORD has told him to curse David;
who then will dare to say, ‘Why are you doing this?’”
Then the king said to Abishai and to all his servants:
“If my own son, who came forth from my loins, is seeking my life,
how much more might this Benjaminite do so?
Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to.
Perhaps the LORD will look upon my affliction
and make it up to me with benefits
for the curses he is uttering this day.”
David and his men continued on the road,
while Shimei kept abreast of them on the hillside,
all the while cursing and throwing stones and dirt as he went.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 3:2-3, 4-5, 6-7

R. (8a) Lord, rise up and save me.
O LORD, how many are my adversaries!
Many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“There is no salvation for him in God.”
R. Lord, rise up and save me.
But you, O LORD, are my shield;
my glory, you lift up my head!
When I call out to the LORD,
he answers me from his holy mountain.
R. Lord, rise up and save me.
When I lie down in sleep,
I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
I fear not the myriads of people
arrayed against me on every side.
R. Lord, rise up and save me.

Gospel
MK 5:1-20

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea,
to the territory of the Gerasenes.
When he got out of the boat,
at once a man from the tombs who had an unclean spirit met him.
The man had been dwelling among the tombs,
and no one could restrain him any longer, even with a chain.
In fact, he had frequently been bound with shackles and chains,
but the chains had been pulled apart by him and the shackles smashed,
and no one was strong enough to subdue him.
Night and day among the tombs and on the hillsides
he was always crying out and bruising himself with stones.
Catching sight of Jesus from a distance,
he ran up and prostrated himself before him,
crying out in a loud voice,
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
I adjure you by God, do not torment me!”
(He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”)
He asked him, “What is your name?”
He replied, “Legion is my name. There are many of us.”
And he pleaded earnestly with him
not to drive them away from that territory.Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside.
And they pleaded with him,
“Send us into the swine. Let us enter them.”
And he let them, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine.
The herd of about two thousand rushed down a steep bank into the sea,
where they were drowned.
The swineherds ran away and reported the incident in the town
and throughout the countryside.
And people came out to see what had happened.
As they approached Jesus,
they caught sight of the man who had been possessed by Legion,
sitting there clothed and in his right mind.
And they were seized with fear.
Those who witnessed the incident explained to them what had happened
to the possessed man and to the swine.
Then they began to beg him to leave their district.
As he was getting into the boat,
the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him.
But Jesus would not permit him but told him instead,
“Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”
Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis
what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.