Who’s in your circle?

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

It seems more now than ever people surround themselves solely with like-minded individuals and groups, and avoid social interaction with the rest.  It is nicer this way, some might say, we have more in common. The growing divide between opposing views and the avoidance of thoughtful discourse (which could lead to mutual respect) has nearly reached a societal impasse. Those people. Can’t stand them. And it is not only politics that divides us, the other day I read  comments on a nutrition blog which devolved into ad hominem attacks on those who voluntarily eliminated wheat and dairy from their diet. No wonder we distance ourselves from any situation that might lead to a confrontation. The truth is many people go to great lengths to steer clear of situations that challenge the security of the status quo. It can ruin a perfectly nice day.

Clearly this is not what Jesus would do. Take, for example, Jesus’ teaching about those with “unclean spirits” [MK 1:21-28]. Rather than steering clear Jesus dives right in. Jesus objected to Jewish purity laws which prescribed keeping one’s distance to avoid contamination and alienation from the community. For Jesus, purity laws were problematic in that they actually established a dwelling place for unclean spirits. And because Jesus is all about unity he risked his own contamination, approached the possessed man and called the evil out. Jesus carried his own purity into the situation in order to cleanse the other. So powerful was Jesus’ truth it expelled, but not without a fight, what separated the human person from the community. Like the stunned witnesses, Jesus shows us a different way to deal with people we would ordinarily avoid.

Today the words “unclean spirit” are tricky. Are we to understand this to mean literal possession by evil or should we consider the behavior of the biblical demoniac a form of mental illness? The latter calls us to compassion. Either way, the suffering human person is alienated from others. Might an unclean spirit also refer to one whose behavior is misguided and destructive to the self and others, and not grounded in the love that brings about creation and community? Can we, like Jesus, attempt to call out what dwells in the darkness by shining the light of truth on it? We must. If we continue to separate ourselves and keep our circles small, we do nothing to affect change in the world.

The tiniest spark of hope from one to another is capable of restoring wholeness, and is often the other’s only chance for survival. A open ear, a quiet mouth, a hand extended in compassion is the life-giving bridge between isolation and inclusion. This is challenging but necessary work.Open your circle and allow yourself to be the wick that carries the flame of Christ’s love into the world.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

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