Commentary on the Gospel of
Our 7-year-old grandson spent the night with us last week. We laughed, played, and read books. The next morning, we all went to breakfast. He returned home nibbling a huge cookie. He was eager to tell his family that he had beaten both of us in a Crazy 8s card tournament at the kitchen table.
But when we walked into his house, he saw his older sister with something new. Instantly forgotten was the joyful time and attention he had with his grandparents. Instead, Dan zeroed in on a trip to the store he had missed. “No fair!” he said. “I didn’t get anything!”
How quickly we dismiss the gifts we have been given when we see what others have. We forget how rich and bountiful our lives can be when jealousy invades the present moment.
In today’s first reading from Genesis, we see the story of Sarah and Abraham. After many years of longing for a child, God’s promise brought them a son, miraculously conceived despite both of their advanced years. Today’s first reading begins with a happy ceremonial feast in honor of the young Isaac’s weaning.
God had promised that Sarah and Abraham’s son Isaac would be the start of a multitude of nations, and that God would maintain the covenant “between me and you and your descendants after you throughout the ages.” Sarah could not enjoy the great gift she had been given with Isaac and the personal relationship Abraham had with God. Instead, she feared that her son Isaac might lose his inheritance. Sarah’s fearful greed and jealousy drove Hagar and Ishmael away. So, Abraham reluctantly sent away Hagar with his own son, Ishmael. But the two refugees, driven into the desert, were protected by God and Ismael grew up to become the patriarch of Islam.
How often do someone else’s gifts stir in us envy and resentment? How quickly do we allow our own contentment and peace to be replaced by a jealousy of something someone else has - real or imagined?
God offers us a deep love and personal affection no matter how we have lived our lives, or what we have done. That incomprehensible gift can quickly be forgotten when our hearts are filled with the demons of envy or other weaknesses.
Demons appear in Matthew’s gospel today as Jesus heals two men possessed by evil spirits. Jesus encounters the spirits outside of town, and they recognize Jesus, calling him “Son of God.” They have terrorized the town and “were so savage that no one could travel by that road.”
Jesus calmly sends them into a herd of swine which rush into the sea and are drowned. This is Jesus, who loves us endlessly, showing us how he can easily dispatch demons. The demons who troubled those men are gone, and the two are left with the presence of Jesus. I imagine them coming awake after their possession and seeing and a great peace and love as it settles into their hearts. They hear Jesus speak to them and they know deep in their souls that their lives will never be the same again.
Jesus, with that same unending and unearned love, is here for us, too, to relieve us of our demons. It might be jealousy over someone with more money, fame or honors. It might be the demons of judging others, drinking too much or straying from our vows. No matter how large the demons in our own lives, Jesus stands next to us healing us and giving us strength and his powerful love.
Loving Jesus, thank you for the friendship and love I feel from you when I take the time to quietly talk with you. I am grateful that you liberate me from the torments in my life as you walk with me daily. I feel your constant presence as I struggle to escape from my fears yet feel your peace deep in my heart.