Psalms 8:2, 5-9
This is the week that the Christmas season ends and we return to “Ordinary Time” in the Church. But there is nothing ordinary about today’s gospel. A man with an unclean spirit comes into the synagogue where Jesus is teaching. Immediately the unclean spirit is afraid and screeches at Jesus, “What do you want of us? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”
How will I pray with this gospel? I could picture myself as one of the bystanders in the synagogue, amazed as this scene unfolds. But then something moves inside my soul and I realize that I am the one with the unclean spirit.
Unclean? How often do we realize that our lives are messy and less than perfect? Our struggles to be kind or honest, our motives that are less than pure, our struggles to control our appetites and addictions, are all behaviors that clearly fall into the “needs healing” category. Unclean.
And so we enter the synagogue with our unclean spirits and encounter Jesus teaching. The unclean part of us recoils with fear and dread. What will Jesus want of us in our un-cleanliness? Will he destroy us? No. He heals us.
With great conviction and authority Jesus addresses the screeching of our unclean spirits and sends them out of us. It isn’t something that happens easily. The man in the gospel has a violent convulsion and loud shrieking as the spirit leaves him. Aren’t we like that? No matter how much we want to change, to rid ourselves of this unclean spirit, don’t we cling to it – to our habits – as a familiar companion and almost dread the change as much as we desire the healing?
We find ourselves tossed on the floor of the synagogue, the unclean spirit knocked out of us and Jesus kneeling over us gently, holding us for support. Now the unclean spirit is gone and has been replaced by a wonderful freedom Jesus gives us. Follow him, this “Holy One of God” and we will always feel this heady joy, this freeing love.
We stay there in a heap on the synagogue floor, staring up into Jesus' loving eyes, but our fears remain because we know how many times we have gotten up from the floor of the synagogue and wandered outside where we forgot about Jesus’ love for us and accepted once again the unclean spirit into our lives. Jesus knows all that, too. The one who holds us so gently now, who stares down at us with such compassion and love, understands our struggles and knows that letting go of our unclean spirits is a lifetime project.
Our healing has just begun.
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