Job seems so pessimistic: Life is a drudgery; I am assigned months of misery; I am filled with restlessness! Will this ever end? And in the next breath he declares: My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; my life is like the wind! Where did the time go?
And that is the long and short of it. At times, life is an unbearable burden thrust upon us. The days drag, and we drag ourselves through them. And then again, time seems to slip through our fingers. We close our eyes for a moment and years rush by.
Are we merely victims of fate? Pawns on some vast, cosmic chessboard? Brought into the game of life by a decision not our own and dealt a hand over which we have no control? Is there really a God out there who cares what happens to each and every one of us?
Who has not entertained such questions when life turns an uncaring, or even terrifying face toward us? At such times it takes both faith and courage to believe that God does indeed heal the brokenhearted. But the Gospel shows Jesus doing just that. He brought healing with a gentle touch and with words of power.
Jesus could sympathize with our burdens, because they were his as well. He watched those whom he knew and loved diminish physically before his very eyes. He lived at a time when his country was occupied by foreign forces. He knew the consequences of armed conflict. It was for the purpose of lessening human burdens that he went about preaching and driving out demons.
We might be tempted to wonder why, if he was so powerful, he allowed suffering to take hold in the first place. Why were people afflicted with disease or possessed by demons? And today—Why do the elderly poor languish in the cold? Why do innocent children bloat from malnutrition? Why is our future cut down on the battlefield? Why have we been assigned months of misery?
Questions like these have never really been satisfactorily answered. Instead of telling us why, Jesus shows us how. Without denying our own need for comfort, he directs our gaze toward the needs of others. How are we to deal with the tragedies of life? We are to approach those who suffer, grasp their hands, help them up; to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.
Paul learned this lesson well. Following the example of Jesus, he offered himself in service of others, becoming all things to all people. Can we do less? Can we continue to allow the elderly to languish? Or the children to starve? Or hatred to rule the world? Can we continue to allow misunderstanding to fester in our families, alienating us from those with whom we share life? Can we continue to support bigotry or indifference? Can we continue to allow such demons to possess us today?
At the time of Jesus, people believed that the world was locked in a mortal battle between good and evil forces that were cosmic in nature, but that played out their conflict in human history. These forces were represented by angels and demons. Understanding this perspective, we realize that the Gospel story is not only an account of healing and exorcism, but one that describes the power of God in Jesus casting out the forces of evil in the world and establishing there the reign of God.
Today our understanding of the structure of the cosmos may reflect more closely that of Carl Sagan than that of the Gospel writer. But the ancient perspective does provide a way of understanding some of the suffering in life. We are indeed at war, not only with some identified human opponent, but with forces of evil that are much more comprehensive in scope. And the battle is fought within each one of us.
It is not only addictive personalities that seem to be possessed. In a sense, we all have our demons. Traditionally, we have referred to these mysterious destructive forces as the seven capital sins: pride, anger, envy, gluttony, lust, avarice, sloth. They may come disguised in different garb today, but these are the demons with which we all struggle. Every evil in the world can be traced back to one or more of these forces.
Job is right to cry out against such a life. So are we, for if we merely accept it, we will do nothing to change it. If we do not acknowledge the demons that seem to hold sway in our lives, in our world, we will not struggle to cast them out. Although the readings for today begin with a cry of desperation, they end on a note of triumph. The suffering people in the Gospel came to Jesus and were healed and set free. If, like them, we seek him out and open ourselves to the power of his compassion, the forces of evil in our lives and in our world can be driven out and the reign of God will be established. This burdensome life really holds promise.