Wednesday, January 19, 2011

hard sayings

I am sometimes one of those disciples who finds Jesus' sayings (and doings) hard to deal with (cf. Jn. 6:60). Tonight I was reading the passage in Mark (Mk. 5:1-13) about Jesus casting the legion of unclean spirits out of the possessed man. The question that vexed me was why Jesus agreed with the request of the unclean spirits not to send them out of the country, and then gave them leave to enter the herd of swine. I certainly would have been a little angry if I were one of the swineherds who lost two thousand animals at a single blow. I am sure that there is some great biblical commentary that would shed some light on this passage, but you have to admit, it seems a little strange. You hardly blame the surrounding villagers for asking Jesus please to leave their neighborhood.

The footnote to the story is a little hard to take, too. As Jesus is taking his leave of their neighborhood, the cleansed demoniac begs Jesus that he might get into the boat and accompany him. The burning desire of his heart is simply to be the one who has freed him from his enslavement. Surely that is a noble desire, one that Jesus' heart would long to grant? But, no. "He refused and said to him, 'Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you" (Mk. 5:19). Granted, I'm sure the change of seeing this man "clothed and in his right mind", instead of foaming at the mouth and being thrown around by demons, was a great witness to the man's friends and family. And I'm sure that he ultimately found great joy in proclaiming the Lord and his mercies in his own neighborhood. But in that moment, I'm sure it was very hard for him to understand why he was being refused.

I often wish feel that my way is unclear and wish that Jesus would speak to me, enlighten me, guide me, more directly. Interesting, then, to note that during the time He walked this earth, Jesus' words were not always clear, His guidance not always easy to take. Indeed, earlier in Mark's gospel, Our Lord explains that he teaches in parables to the people "so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; lest they should turn again, and be forgiven" (Mk. 4:12). Hard words, indeed.

I do not have an explanation for all of these hard words tonight, but simply thought it worth noting that they are there. The Lord's ways are mysterious and He is sometimes confusing. His will for us may be different than we would have it, but there it is. He has always been a sign of contradiction, perhaps especially when He walked and talked on this earth. The disciples didn't like it when he predicted His passion and death, anymore than we like it when we are reminded to offering our sufferings up in union with His. Yet in this sign is our salvation. By his holy cross, He has redeemed the world.

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