Luke 4:31-37, Tuesday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time
Did you hear of that story of a priest in Mindanao? He was exorcising a possessed man who was yelling profanities at him while he sprinkled him with holy water. “Pahawa! Pahawa dautang espiritu!” the priest said over and over again. Then at one point, the possessed man glowered at him and screamed, “Bayot ka! Bayot kang paria ka!” And without losing a breath or batting an eyelash, the priest stopped and said, “Ngano man diay?” Then he continued, “Pahawa! Pahawa dautang espiritu!” O diva?
Unclean people were not allowed in the synagogue. Jews believed that whoever or whatever came into contact with the unclean, also became unclean—including a whole synagogue. The religious leaders would have straightaway expelled the possessed man—once they figured out who would dare touch him. Jesus solved the problem for them. Instead of expelling the person, though, he expelled the unclean spirit. Not the person. Never the person.
Once upon a time, one of our most popular churches allowed the homeless to sleep in the church every night. The staff would wake them up the next morning and let them out so they could clean up the church. Then before they closed the doors every night, the homeless would come to sleep in the pews—safe and away from the elements, cockroaches, druggies, drunks that would have tormented them outside. Then one day, all that changed. No more homeless in church. It seemed that the staff—committed as they were to keep the Lord’s home clean—it was they who couldn’t tolerate the, well, unclean.
“What are you going to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth, holy one of God?” the evil spirit yells at the Lord. “Are you going to destroy us?” Destroy. You call that “projection” care of basic psychology. To destroy is the project of the devil, not of Jesus. “Be quiet,” is all that Jesus commands. “Come out of him.” That’s it. No harm, no destruction.
And we’re told that they “were all amazed”. Not only did Jesus have authority on the law, he had power to destroy demons, too! That was what the religious authorities saw, they saw their algebra: authority equals power…power especially to destroy, power to expel. But like basket-case Duterte and his basket-case Dutertards, the religious authorities could never get that true authority means the power to not have to harm in order to set aright, to not have to destroy in order to be just; no, especially not people, especially not the already helpless, the already tormented, the already ostracized. God’s law…or any law for that matter…is meant to build people up, not destroy them.
The longer you stay in religious life, dear brothers, you will see how ambivalent the authority we have over people. A mindless homily, for instance, could actually start healing someone who needed to hear just the right words from us. Or simply listening to the downtrodden could actually “exorcise” them of their demons. But as early as now, dear brothers, we need to reckon with how much power we have to harm people, too, even to destroy them…for life. And I’m talking not just about sexual misconduct. We are powerful enough to actually steal money from our institutions and endow our own families, for instance. We are charismatic enough to have benefactors give us more than we really need. We are credible enough to actually scheme rifts between our collaborators. And if I know history correctly, power that harms often begins in a Jesuit who is out of touch with his demons; worse, when his demons are already leaving so many fingerprints everywhere, yet the Jesuit still denies he is actually “possessed” at all. I have seen it both in myself and in our brothers, dear brothers: the fiercer the denial, the deeper the harm. That is the algebra.
I don’t think that our demons will ever be completely expelled as long as we live earthly lives. But I think we can keep people safe from harm when we acknowledge that we could use an exorcism now and then.