Monday, February 1, 2016

Sometimes it feels just like I'm falling in the ocean

It has been a couple of days since I have last written.  My mind has been occupied with many things.  Today, though, I feel it necessary to put words to the page.  As the readings begin to speak of Absalom and King David, I am reminded of our own relationships with our own children.  Absalom was not content being a prince of the kingdom.  He decided he knew better than his father.  He began to subvert his ways, telling others 'if I were in charge, I'd have time to judge for you.'  He saw flaws in the political system, and he used them and the happiness they brought to undermine his fathers rule.  David upon hearing what his son had done took his men and fled into the countryside to pray.

Notice, David's first response is to go and consult God.  We see so many events here that prefigure Christ's own journey to the mount of olives to pray for God's will.  King David and Christ both go to the mount of olives.  They both go with their companions.  They both are insults.  David is cursed by Shimei, and Christ being treated as if he were a thief.  They both had men who loved them step up and try to defend them.  David's guard wanted to lop off Shimei's head, and Peter tried to do the same to a Roman guard.  In both cases, the King instead sought peace.  The King sought to do what God had planned, not his own. David tells his men, who knows that God did not plan it this way?  That he did not send Shimei to curse me?  He felt he deserved it.  As do I.  As do I.

Then we come to the true King, Jesus himself in the gospel driving out a demon.  This demon claims his name is Legion.  A legion is a roman unit, a measurement of the size of an army.  That's over 5000 in number.  This possessed man was not the person you would expect to come to a Jewish Rabbi.   He was a gentile, that alone made him unclean.  Yet, he also lived among the tombs... the dead... then on top of that?  He lived in the area were the pigs were! Oh my, how horrible this man must have been to the Jewish mindset of first century Palestine.  No one would want to touch him.  No one would want to be around him.  To do so, would have made you unclean too! 

Jesus though reaches out to this man.  He finds his sickness.  He heals it.  He casts out the 'Legion' into a herd of swine, which then runs off a cliff into the water to die.  Our modern sensibilities see this as a cruel thing... all those animals!  I think though, that we are to look at the spiritual significance of what just happened.  This man was possessed by many things, he was in slavery to demons.. to his sins.  Jesus freed him from those.  The thing is though, we are taught by Sacred Scripture, that if those sins aren't destroyed... they'll come back and multiply. 

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none.  Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order.  Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. So shall it be also with this evil generation.”

Just cleaning up the outside, the visible.. isn't enough.  It requires emptying the house.  It requires kicking out the demons, the sins.   It requires then having something to stop them from coming back.  Jesus was showing that all of those sinful things... the demons... the pigs.... they were not just being cast out.. they were no longer pursuing the man, they had been destroyed.  In fact, it reminds us of the Exodus doesn't it?  The Israelites had left Egypt with all it's sins behind, it's idolatry, it's gluttony, it's animal like Gods... but it wasn't enough to just leave was it?  Pharaoh and his army pursued them!  Chased them!  They were going to bring them back into slavery.   The sea opened it's mouth at God's command, and swallowed the army.  It destroyed those influences, those sins.  It freed them from slavery.  So too was this man freed.  

That brings us to the truth of that situation... the truth of our own situation.  Jesus extended the Exodus to gentiles too, in this one moment he revealed that God's salvation was not just to the Jews, but to tall of mankind..  in one act, he had reached out to the vilest of the vile.. the sinner of sinners.. the person that no one wanted to touch.. the other... and he made him whole.. he didn't stop there though.. he said "“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”  In one amazing gesture, Jesus took the 'other' and turned them into a missionary for his kingdom.

Oh how much we can learn from this.  Too often we see to degrade the other.  We find the lowest fact on them, the dirtiest secret, and we try to discredit them.  Just look at politics around us?  Jesus though says I choose, who I choose.  There isn't a saint who existed, who didn't start out as a sinner.  In fact, the greatest of the saints often began as the greatest of the sinners.  God isn't looking for a perfect man and woman.. just one who is willing to try.  He is ready to cast out those sins that keep you in bondage.. the bring you into his presence and to drive those demons into the sea.  All we have to do is let Him into our home... into our heart.   You see, if you leave the house empty.... they'll just come back.... if you fill it though.. fill it with the light of Christ.. then he will cast them out and keep them out.

That's because Jesus is the King.   David was a man after God's own heart.  Even though his kid decided he had a better idea of how to do things, even though he undermined his word, even though he caused a split in the kingdom... how did David respond?  He loved him.  When Absalom was killed, David gave one of the most painful lines of text in the entirety of Scripture:  "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!" 

Isn't it the same for us as parents?  Our children aren't always going to choose the same path as us.   Sometimes it's going to be a better one.   Other times?  Well we just hope they learn from their mistakes.   They might unite our world.  They might drive a wedge up the middle.  They might love or hate.  They might undermine and spread rumors about us.  Yet, in the end... if we truly love them?  We would rather that we could die in their place.   If I, sinful wretch that I am, am capable of this kind of love?  How much more so God?

At the same time, we must also realize that we are children of the King, royal princes and princesses.  How often do we turn to our own paths, trying to make things better in our own way?  Do we sometimes ignore what God has told us is for our own good, and try to redefine it to what we think is better?  Then we end up with cracks in our relationships, a house filled with dark things, we have our own herd of swine chasing us through the dry bed of the sea.  Are we ready yet?  To turn it all over to God?  To trust him and to follow him?  After all, he's already done that which David cried to do.. he's already died in our place.. that we might live with Him forever. 

Lent is coming soon.  It's time to get the army off your back.  It's time to let Christ into your heart fully, so that there is no room for anything from the evil one to take up residence.  Sin is like that.  It begins to multiply.  What was once a little venial thing?  Will eventually grow into something heinous, something mortal.  It's better to take care of all of it now.. to run to Christ in the sacraments, throw ourselves at his feet and say, "You are Jesus Son of the most High God.  Have mercy on me, a sinner."  It's time to start clinging to God instead of to our sins, because God is going to lead you through the ocean to freedom.. your sins are just going to try to take you off the cliff with them.

His servant and yours,