Strange Stories, Saving God

5 Pentecost

First reading and psalm: 1 Kings 19:1-4 (5-7), 8-15a • Ps. 42 and 43

Alternate: Isa. 65:1-9 • Ps. 22:18-27 • Gal. 3:23-29 • Luke 8:26-39

Elijah is running for his life. Finding a solitary broom tree, he sits, sulks, and prays for his end. “It is enough,” he says. An angel touches him once and then again, saying, “Get up and eat.” “He went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God” (1 Kings 19:8). Going forth from his mountain cave, he hears the wind, feels the earth shake, witnesses fire, but the Lord is not in the wind, earth, or flame. Instead, the Lord is sheer silence. However sheer it may be, it is sound. “One deep calls to another” (Ps. 42:7).

Silence is but one of many epiphanies, a relative calm between punctuations of power. An anonymous 15th-century poet says of the Incarnation, “He came al so still, / There his mother was, / As dew in April / that falleth on the grass” (The Oxford Book of English Verse). “Still” indeed, but the birthing of life itself. So Elijah, knowing that life and truth are present, wraps his face in his mantle and hears a summons: “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus” (1Kings 19:15). Silence is the womb of the Word.

And the Word is judgment: “I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their laps their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together,” says the Lord (Isa. 65:6-7). Whether the prophet recalls the pre-exilic period or the exile itself, the ancient temptation to idolatry is embraced with such intensity that the people can say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near us, for we are too holy for you” (Isa. 65:5). They eat swine’s flesh and drink the broth of abominable things, feeling very, very, very religious, though living in tombs (Isa. 65:4).

When Jesus and his disciples arrive at the country of the Gerasenes, a man comes to meet them, a naked man who lives among the tombs, in the grip of powers called “Legion.” He is held captive by demons and assigned his place by law. For the law gives him a home among tombs, shackles to control his rage. But the demons break the chains and drive him into the wilds. Behold the man, our brother. The law was his disciplinarian, but what is law to a lost man? Demons can break chains, but who will break the demons? When, in the fullness of time, Jesus directs demons to the swine and the swine to the consuming lake, the man is found free, at the feet of Jesus, in his own mind. Like so many healed by Jesus, he desires only “to be with him” (Luke 8:38). Being with him, however, is not always a matter of leaving father and mother and homeland. Jesus says, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you” (Luke 8:39). A vow of stability can do immeasurable good.

What strange stories: A fearful prophet stands at the mouth of a cave, wrapped in his mantle; an elect people sit in secret places sipping a witch’s brew; a possessed man rips off his clothes and breaks his fetters. Strange, indeed, but if I walk but a short distance from the desk where I write, I will see such persons. Praying, I may feel “I” and “Thou,” but on the street I feel only “I.”

Then where is our help? Our help is in the name of the Lord: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ” (Gal. 3:27).

Look It Up
Read Isa. 65:1. You are not safe until you are safe in the one who pursues you.

Think About It
Stillness is the seed of the Good News.


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