Have you come to destroy us?

POST BY PGallagher

What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us? [1]  The unclean spirit put these questions, but they might come from any of us.  Sometimes we wonder resentfully what Jesus wants with us.  Our joy and gratitude that he has come to save us can transform themselves into an indignation at his demands. ‘Life is hard enough,’ we find ourselves thinking, ‘without the additional burden placed on us by the Lord.’  ‘His commands are too hard to obey.’ ‘Fidelity to the way of life which he teaches is too difficult.’  ‘Failure is damaging us.’  Our exasperation might go so far as to frame again the demon’s second question: Have you come to destroy us?  To walk the way of the Lord, which has attracted us in the past, can have begun to repel us.  Disappointment with how our discipleship has turned out may make us harsh critics of the faith.  Do we suspect or fear that a way of life which promises salvation will turn out to be our destruction?  What do you want with us Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?

Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him [2].   If not destroyed, the evil spirit is, at least, sent away.  Jesus approaches us not to destroy us but free us.  His first command might be: Be quiet. He imposes a certain silence.  This quiet envelopes not only our complaints but also our ‘I know who you are: the Holy One of God’ [3].  There is a right moment for testimony. I will put my words into his mouth [4].  To recognise Christ and to help others to recognise him is our highest duty.  To know the Lord for who he is is also a great joy.  Yet we may need further preparation before we can speak of him as we should. In the silence which he first imposes on us there is prayer, strengthening and a banishing of what is harming us.  Our being freed from evil could be quite convulsive.  The man in the synagogue at Capernaum, who was possessed by an unclean spirit, from which he was freed by Jesus, may afterwards have become a disciple.  At first, however, having been quieted, he simply recovers from his ordeal.

The Lord does not simply silence our grumbles.  Nor is his timetable for revealing himself a steamroller which flattens our insights: I know who you are.  Jesus listens to us.  The silence he requests is for patient listening and for calm dialogue. His commands are not always easy to obey.  He seeks to walk with us to help us to be truly the disciples he has called to be.  Fidelity escapes us sometimes. His faithfulness is much more than a reproach.  That he does not give up on us, is our support through our worst times. Jesus, the holy one of God, does not leave us whatever we say or do.  He concedes that failure is damaging us.  His way of binding up these wounds is not to ask less of us but to give us more of his healing and grace.  He taught them with authority [5].   The authority of Christ is in the uncompromising character of both his mercy and the holiness to which he summons his listeners.  Evil spirits are sent away and even their wholesome intuitions are silenced by this authority.  It is the Lord himself who frees us and who lifts us up and who asks us to speak his truth to others.

He approaches us with love and with forgiveness; he builds us up: he does not destroy us. I would like to see you free from all worry [6].   We welcome him and recognise with gratitude his benevolence towards us.  We try to respond to him with our own love and self-sacrifice.  Our words to him are our prayers, our thanksgiving, our and our declarations of faith, hope and love. By his grace, our words are backed up by our actions.   We expect no destruction.  There can be an anxiety in us about what it will mean to us to have met Christ and heard clearly his teaching and have begun to put it into practice.  When they tried me though they saw my work [7]. Our worries could be about our worthiness or about our capacity to respond properly and seriously to the Lord’s transforming grace.  Jesus shows us God.  He is the Word.  He is the new Moses fulfilling the Law of God and bringing us a new covenant.  To act on the recognition of all of this can be quite a challenge to us and to the way we are living.  The discovery or renewed awareness of who Jesus is moves us to silence as well as word and action.  This, we realise, is God. Let us kneel before the God who made us [8]. We fall to our knees, not convulsively, but in worship. Give your undivided attention to the Lord [9]. We come to know that in our existence Jesus has the authority of God himself.  To recognise Jesus for who he is to find him everywhere, present, majestically present, our creator, the One who underpins and transforms everything.  God’s greatness is there whether we see it or not.  Nevertheless to see that greatness, really to know it, is truly to acknowledge the authority of Jesus Christ.  He is the Word made flesh, God among us. Knowing him is to understand the world and how we are to live in a quite different way. 

Nevertheless that appalled question Have you come to destroy us? haunts us a little. Could we, despite everything imagine ourselves framing such a question?  The authoritative teaching that the focus of our life is to be God revealed to us in his Son Jesus Christ can be disturbing as well as inspiring.  It may be that there is that which has to be cleared away, destroyed, if God is to be properly loved and obeyed.  It may be that spiritual bulldozers must clear space and silence in our busy and dutiful but cluttered life for prayer and praise.  There may be no entirely peaceful way of securing the peace which we need so that our connection to God may flourish and build us up as it ought.  It may be that even in people who have long acknowledged the true God there linger or have crept in idolatries that prompt a needed divine destruction[10], the destruction of false gods. Have you come to destroy us?  We ourselves ask this question, then, and not indignantly but with hope.  It is, for example, our self-centred-ness, our forgetfulness of God, which the Lord who loves us might rightly destroy. Have you come to destroy us?  ‘Not the whole of you, of course, but some elements of your life.’

And the Be quiet?  Could that sharp command also be justly directed to us who cry out to God with such joy, such faith, such sincerity? The Lord does not silence our acknowledgement of his divine authority over us. However, the voices, the spirits in us which are angry, resentful, rebellious, idolatrous …..Be quiet. Come out of them.  Yes, perhaps, after all, the Lord’s sharp words have some useful application to us.  Jesus has not come to destroy us, nor to silence us.  He purifies us and he quietens the turmoil which is sometimes in us and is so afflicting. His healing us can be the administering of tough medicine. Let us allow what is bad to be destroyed. Let us allow some of our less useful words to be silenced.  Jesus Christ reveals to us who he is.  He centres us on God.  He focuses our prayer, our desire to love God, our longing to live a life which gives glory to the One who has called us into being.  Our association with him builds up the good in us and gives us words to say which are worth uttering.  I know who you are ‘and I love and obey the One I know.’

Homily by Father Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]              Mark 1.24

[2]              Mark 1.25-26

[3]              Mark 1.24

[4]              Deuteronomy 18.15

[5]              Mark 1.22 and see also verse 27

[6]              1 Corinthians 7.32

[7]              Psalm (95) 94.9

[8]              Psalm (95) 94.6

[9]              1 Corinthians 7.35

[10]            Deuteronomy 18.20