Threat versus Comfort - Epiphany 4
29 January 2012 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece
When they saw him, they besought him to depart from their coasts.
I wonder why? After calming a storm, and then healing two men with demons…the people now beg Jesus to leave the area.
Christ our Saviour who protects us both from the sea-storms of the world and the sea-storms of the heart – from the demons of our fears and anxieties…is asked to depart.
Are the people of the country of the Gadarenes simply frightened about what Jesus does in removing those fierce demons which had previously terrified them? Or maybe the herd of drowned swine brought in some money and they want him gone because they are worried about losing more animals?
What about us? The question is whether we are awake to his presence and whether we actually want him in our neighbourhood. We might think we do – especially for an hour on a Sunday…but how often and how much do we beg the Lord to depart from huge areas of our lives…and demands on our time…which if only we were to spend it and enjoy it with Him…would be for our human flourishing and for the good of others.
Today’s first story, when Jesus calms the storm, has done its job not when we say, isn’t it wonderful that Jesus is the great comforter who gives us peace in the storms of life? …but rather when we tremble, awe-struck and exclaim, who can this be? Even the winds and the waves obey him! If you find the storm frightening…just wait until you meet Jesus.
It’s not a message that chimes readily with our obsession with finding peace in an arduous and stressful world. Rather we want help to cope with the strain. We even tailor the Gospel in order to fit this priority…and in the process we turn Jesus into a big…kind…uncle figure… there to soothe us and to help us to manage the storms. But in reality this is small fare…and there is a larger narrative we all fit into…to do with eternity…and yet to be revealed to each one of us.
The most likely reason Jesus was asked to depart from Gadara is because he disturbs settled lives…lives they have no faith might be able to change for the better. Yes, they have these fierce and violent men in their community…but they have found a way to manage them…to control them…at least keep them at bay.
Is this not similar to the fear found in the resurrection accounts? You can almost hear the people saying, We don't like death…but the thought that death has no power may be even more frightening. It sounds strange on the surface, yet we are wise not to underestimate the power of stasis. We are wise not to underestimate the power of settling for what we already know. Banks and Utility providers know all to well about those who won’t shop around for a better deal…and for a better provider.
We don't like death…but the thought that death has no power may be even more frightening. That there is a power greater than death…opens doors through which we may not wish to pass. It removes all kinds of excuses for why something is not possible.
Is it then this removal of excuses that frightens the Gadarenes…that worries us as well? Does Jesus challenge the pattern of how they have already arranged their lives? And is that not what Jesus' power is about? It is not to make band-aid healings. Rather to speak to structures, to the powers, to the roots of what make the surface healings necessary.
And powers never give up their position without a fight. Any system of understanding…anything organised to provide order…will never understand questioning of that arrangement as friendly. Whether it be governments, civic authorities…churches…or even our own selves…questions to the settled order will always be perceived as a threat at some level.
So there is threat in today’s Gospel…the threat that Christ might bring more than we think we want…He who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…as St Paul writes to the Christian community in Ephesus. There is the threat of real faith unsettling the established order of death…on both a personal and communal level. But there is also comfort.
For the Lord does not come just to share our sorrows and to join our misery…nor simply to heal them. Christian faith is about much more than surviving shipwreck through the storms of life. He comes to do something about the condition of our storm-tossed and sin-wrecked hearts…going to the Cross for us. For our salvation…not to be another statistic. Going to the Cross, and rising in glory. We can believe confidently that the journey ends well. There’s a cushion we can all sleep securely upon.