In this story and in others, it’s the demons who actually best understand what they’re dealing with. They hate Jesus, but that’s because they understand who He is, better than the humans in the story. “I know who you are - the holy one of God!” Evil is quicker to react to God’s presence than lukewarmness or curiosity, because evil sees the threat He poses. It knows that when Jesus shows up on the scene, one of them has to lose… and it won’t be Jesus. So we get this open conflict, this resistance.
Now I am not, so far as I am aware, currently possessed by a demon. But this resistance... I have to say it's something I can relate to all too well. Can you? Is there something inside you, like there is inside me, that wants very much to keep Jesus from coming any closer? Some part of you that realizes the threat He poses, the conflict and change He will necessarily bring? That knows that if Jesus isn’t kept at a safe distance, things are going to change?
Here’s a quote I’ve saved from a podcast called Catching Foxes:
"I don’t think a lot of us, unless we constantly go back to that encounter [with Christ], want to be transformed. I think we want enough of Christianity to make me feel like a good person, but we don’t want too much of Christianity, where I have to become the new person. Where I have to actually say “I’m going to put to death these false desires or I’m going to moderate these unrestrained desires,”… I don’t want to do that because that’s work!"
I don’t know about you, but that stings a little. “I think we want enough of Christianity to make me feel like a good person, but we don’t want too much of Christianity, where I have to become the new person.”
Can I suggest a little self-examination? How comfortable are you with your Christianity? What is it about following Jesus Christ that is really hard right now? What in you is He at war with? What in you is He changing, day by day, in a way that feels really, really hard?
There are moments as disciples of Jesus where we sort of realize how far we have to go. It’s not about suddenly deciding that we're terrible, that we're awful rotten people. It’s about realizing how completely Jesus wants to convert us and raise us up, and how far there is to go. This is not about guilt. It’s about realizing just how far Christ wants to take you.
And there’s a part of me, and I’ll bet there’s a part of you, that would rather keep Him at arm’s length and stay comfortable. Because there are things in my heart that Jesus wants to cast out, to transform. He wants to cast out my vanity, all of it, and that’s going to be hard. He wants to take away my selfishness, all of it, and me without selfishness is someone so different I can’t even imagine what will have to happen, what will have to change, to get from here to there.
Maybe that’s why He was so constantly telling people not to be afraid. When Jesus draws near, the old self, the selfish petty small-minded apathetic vain self, recognizes Him as a danger and tells us to keep Him at a safe distance. Tells us we won’t survive the heart surgery He wants to do on us. Tells us we don't really even need it; we’re pretty good people already and this Jesus thing has gone far enough, He’s close enough, we’re good like this.
To all those lies, Jesus says: Be not afraid.
There’s power in those words when He speaks them and I feel the fear backing up, quieting down, knowing the presence of someone stronger. In His presence I know it can happen. I know I don’t have to be strong and holy and wise enough to fix myself… He can. I don’t have to see and understand the path from here to where He’s leading me… He does. I just need to know the next step, and to trust the one who leads me on.
There’s that part inside all of us that says whatever you do, keep Jesus Christ at a safe distance. People who let Him come close get their lives messed up. They confess their darkest secrets. They give away half their belongings. They abandon their entire lifestyle. They stop caring about what they used to care about, what "normal" people care about. So that part of us that fears change and fears holiness says the very same thing that demon said: “Jesus of Nazareth, have you come to destroy us?”
But there’s another part of us that, if we let it, recognizes in Him at long last an adventure big enough, something worth dying for, something worth living for, something bigger and more full of love. Something real and true, good, beautiful.
Christianity is not about dabbling just enough to make you feel like a good person. It’s about falling in love, in such a way that you are transformed and turned inside out and remade in the image of the One you love... the image you were meant to be.
Today, somehow, Jesus is going to going to try to change me, to make me a little closer to holy, and little more like that selfless version of me I can’t even imagine becoming. You, too! Let’s pray for each other through the rest of this Holy Mass, that we may have the faith and the courage to let Him really start messing with our lives, really start changing us.
“Have you come to destroy us, Jesus of Nazareth?” You bet He has… come to destroy our vanity, our using of each other, our complacency, our mediocrity, our pridefulness, our selfishness. Come to destroy the self-imposed chains that trap and suffocate the souls He made for Heaven. Come to destroy the idols we give our passions to that leave us always unsatisfied and broken. Come to destroy the envy, the bitterness, and finally even the death that tears us apart.
“I know who you are, Jesus: the Holy one of God.” Please, stay near. Let’s make a mess. Let’s shake things up. Let’s make me a Christian.