Yesterday, I spoke about the historical circumstances into which the Old Testament prophet Amos proclaimed the word of the Lord. Jeroboam II was the king of Israel and he was one of the most corrupt kings to ever sit on the royal throne of Israel.
Jeroboam had insulated himself from the consequences of his idolatry because he wealthy and the cultural elites of Israel looked the other way because they were the beneficiaries of Jeroboam’s economic policies.
Amos spoke the Lord’s word of truth and warned the king and the cultural elites that God was ready to act and God’s justice, not the king’s deceptions, would prevail. And all the money in the king’s treasury would not rescue them from the consequences of their idolatry.
Another thing that would not rescue the king and the elites of Israel was to put on a mask of piety and pretend through attentiveness to religious observances that they were followers of the God of Israel.
God is not mocked by that kind of charade. God knows our character. God knows even the deepest and most hidden recesses of the human heart.
Conversion to the Lord is not just a matter of appearances and goes deeper than attending to the rituals of religion. In fact, if we make the rituals of our faith a mask behind which we hide the real truth about what we have done and failed to do, we rob those rituals of their true power- we take what is sacred and make it into a blasphemy.
The Church’s worship in the Mass begins with and returns again and again to appeals to the Lord for the forgiveness of our sins and this is not just pious boilerplate. This emphasis on the necessity of a plea for mercy and the need for the Lord’s forgiveness is meant as an unrelenting invitation to conversion, to change our hearts and minds, to turn away from sin and believe the Gospel.
For old king Jeroboam and the elites of Israel long ago, the opportunity for conversion has come and gone and we hope that they accepted the Lord’s word of truth and repented.
For us, the opportunity is right now.
A frightening scene in today’s Gospel!
Christ the Lord casts out demons, dark and dangerous powers that have seized hold of two poor souls. This is what God in Christ comes into this world, into our lives to do- to rescue us from dark and dangerous powers.
By driving the demon into the herd of swine, he sends what is unclean into what is unclean. Like attracts like and together they come to a ruinous end.
What is curious about this story is the end, where people seeing what Christ has done, do not rejoice at the arrival of Christ’s liberating power, but insist that Christ go away.
This might indicate that in some way, the people of the Gadarene Territory had benefitted from the evil in their midst. How often this is the truth! How often do people cling to evil deeds because such things provide them with wealth, pleasure, power and honors! How often do people try to harness evil for their own purposes, all the while insisting that that they are actually doing good!
In the end, no matter what our excuses, placing ourselves at the service of evil bring us only to a ruinous end.