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Homilies | Sunday, February 01, 2015

Jesus wins the fight

Homily for the Archbishop's 2015 Poker Run benefiting St. Luke's Center

Archbishop Thomas Wenski's homily at Holy Rosary-St. Richard Church during the Archbishop's 2015 Poker Run, benefiting St. Luke's Center. Feb. 1, 2015. 

In today’s first reading, Moses tells the Israelites, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” These words of Moses are more than fulfilled by Jesus of Nazareth, true God but also true man – one whom the Jews would recognized as from among their own kin.

The Gospel – taken from St. Mark’s – tells us about the very beginnings of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ ministry would be about showing how he was the one whom God had promised through Moses and the prophets, the one who would save us from our sins.

So, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus begins his ministry with a confrontation. Unlike many people think, hanging out with Jesus was not about a series of “Kumbaya” moments. He starts by picking a fight – a fight with an unclean spirit.

The people are surprised – because Jesus wins. “What is this? A new teaching with authority.”

So where’s the lesson for us? First, Jesus comes to oppose all those forces that would keep the children of God from accessing the abundant life he wishes for them. Christ came so that we may have life – abundant life. And so, he is against anything that would rob us from joy, the Joy of the Gospel; he opposes all that conspires to keep us from communion – both with his Father and with him – and our brothers and sisters; he resists those things (we can call them sin) that keep us from realizing the purpose for which we were created.

And so, Jesus starts his ministry with a confrontation; he picks a fight with an unclean spirit. Now, when we hear about these incidents in the life of Jesus, when he exorcises a demon, we sometimes gloss over them. Talk about demons and all that stuff is hard for us to reconcile with our “modern day” attitudes – and prejudices. And certainly what an unsophisticated culture might see as instances of demonic possession, we today might better understand as examples of mental illness. Maybe demons might not possess us – but some things do possess us, and do so in ways that are truly diabolical because of their power over us.

Anger can possess us – and overpower us; so can fear. All sorts of addictions can take their hold on us – and take away our freedom. There are people possessed by their work, by their ambitions. If influenza is a physical illness that debilitates our bodies, affluenza – the desire for more and more riches – is a spiritual illness that sucks the life out of our souls.

Just as Jesus confronts the unclean spirit in today’s Gospel and frees the possessed man, Jesus wants to do the same for us. That’s why he calls us to walk with him in the company of his friends we call “Church.” And we are the Church at her best when we gather in Christ’s name to support one another in escaping the hold those things have over us, so that we can grow as a community that recognizes that in Christ we are blessed – and, in turn, we become a blessing for others.

That’s what we are about also today with our annual Poker Run: We start with Mass. We are blessed – but we’re also doing this to support the work of Catholic Charities’ St. Luke Center for addiction recovery. We are blessed – and we want to bless others.

Pope Francis spoke about the Church being a field hospital – something like a MASH unit where the wounded are taken for treatment. (I’m almost tempted to identify which priests resemble Hawkeye Pierce and which ones Frank Burns).

In any case, the image is a good one – for Jesus said he didn't come for those who think themselves healthy but for the sick. And in the Gospel reading, Jesus not only talks the talk, he walks the walk. He frees the possessed man from the “unclean spirit” who leaves him defeated.

Our God is a God of the broken; and our fellowship as members of the Church is a fellowship of the needy. The only difference between the sinners in the Church and those sinners who are outside the Church is that we recognize our need (Have mercy on me Lord, for I am a sinner) and we recognize that Jesus has the power to meet our need.

And so, today’s Gospel is about how Jesus picked a fight with an unclean spirit. As I said at the beginning of the homily, the first lesson we take from this Gospel is that Jesus is against anything that would keep us from the abundant life that God wants for us. I didn't mention a second lesson – but here it is: Jesus wins the fight.

And so shortly we will pray together: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but say but the word and my soul shall be healed.

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