Monday, January 29, 2007

Monday in the 4th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Herd or Community?

Readings: Hebrews 11:32-40; Psalms 31:20, 21, 22, 23, 24; Mark 5:1-20

It’s quite striking how, in our readings today, everything seems to happen to groups. After recounting the exploits of the heroes of our faith, the first reading ends by telling us that they were not to reach perfection except with us. And in the gospel, we have a legion of unclean spirits possessing a man, a herd of pigs rushing to their doom, a group of country-folk imploring Jesus to leave, and masses of people from the Decapolis amazed by the witnessing of the former demoniac.

Aren’t we being reminded that – for better or for worse, whether we like it or not – to be a living breathing human person is inevitably to be part of a group, to be connected to others in a wide network of relationships? Indeed, in the gospel, the only one who is separated from others of his own kind is the demoniac. But he is so only because his humanity is enslaved by unclean spirits, such that nothing could secure him, not even the bonds of loving relationships. And once the demons are exorcised, he very quickly seeks connection with others. He first wishes to stay with Jesus and then proceeds to spread the good news of his healing to all.

Even so, the groups we belong to are not always of a healthy kind, are they? Most of us have probably experienced how – like the legion of unclean spirits and the herd of pigs in the gospel – a group can influence its members towards destruction instead of life. We can think immediately of secret societies and terrorist cells. But even among more ordinary groups of people – such as family members around the dinner table, or colleagues around a water-cooler, or study-buddies, or members of the same ministry in church – isn’t there also sometimes the tendency for conversations and interactions to veer towards the unsavoury, if not the demonic?

Clearly, although groups are inevitable in human existence, they can either tend towards becoming herds intent on destruction, or vibrant communities dedicated to the common good. What differentiates one from the other is the presence and saving action of Jesus the Lord. In him is liberty from destructive demonic forces of all kinds. In him we learn the true meaning of community. In him is the perfection that we share with all the heroes of faith.

Both as individuals and groups, how might we continue to remain focused on the Lord today?

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