Too often when we picture Jesus Christ, especially in our imaginations, we have the tendency to see Him as a reassuring presence, a friendly face, a comfort in the midst of the storm and challenges of life.
Unfortunately, too often we have an unrealistic picture, often influenced by devotional pictures, religious imagery and artistic impressions. Granted, there are no actual photographs of Jesus, apart from maybe the imprint of His likeness on His death shroud.
Of course, we have the perspectives of the early apostles and disciples who wrote the New Testament portion of the Bible. They had the privilege of seeing Christ through the lense of His Resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven and could now see Him clearly through the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who helped them to understand and articulate the life and mission of Jesus even for us today.
But we should not forget another point of reference, a unique perspective of seeing Christ which speaks volumes of the power of His personality and the invisible dynamics of His soul which were often on display. How did the demonic actually see Him when Our Lord stood before those unfortunately processed by them or influenced by evil spirits.
Although the people who encountered Jesus did not know him as yet as “God with them”, the demons knew. They even shouted out in horror and fear, for they knew that through the eyes of Jesus of Nazareth, God was looking right at them!
You see, the devil and his demons are theologians with true knowledge about God. They are not atheists! They know that God exists. In fact the devil is very spiritual. He knows about the complexities of the soul - his demons know the hidden fears of the human heart, the thirst and hunger each person has for God. They are theological and spiritual experts. But they are without faith, forever obstinate, forever stubborn in their refusal of God's influence. These fallen angels are perpetually caught up in their own burning furnace of pride and arrogance and they refuse to let go of their recycling behavior.
When Christ came upon those possessed by evil spirits and demons, what did He in fact actually see? What did God see through the eyes of Christ? Did He see demons before Him like frenzied hyenas with blood-red eyes and razor sharp fangs and claws, dark creatures with flattering bat-wings?
I would say no. The gaze of God saw, first and foremost, children with diseases, men and women suffering from sickness and epidemics, those enslaved by addictions and deep wounds. In short, God saw first and foremost our injuries and our ailments. God looked at us through the eyes of Jesus and His gaze was one of compassion, not revulsion - His gaze was one of mercy, not disgust. The loving and tender gaze of Christ, like a powerful sword, cut through the devil's suffocating cloud. His word evaporated the demonic hold.
God saw right through them and saw you and me, in all our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities and our broken spirits. God gives "us" the attention, not the demons. As we heard in the Gospel today, He doesn't even allow them to speak theology. Christ will instead patiently wait for us to surrender to Him, not out of fear, but from faith in His strength and out of need of His love.
What does this tell us? We can not pride ourselves in simply having the true knowledge about God. The devil, in fact, knows more than we do! Instead, we should not be afraid to look at Christ, and to look at Him eye to eye. But to do so takes great courage on our part, for we must, in a way, “capture” His gaze - allow it to purify us from any pride, selfishness and recklessness. Christ's gaze is disarming - it can be frightening and we might experience a battle of wills. But by laying down our arms, of all the things we often hide behind, and submitting to Him, then only we will find true liberation.
So that we may see the face of God and live (cf. First Reading) may our preparation for Holy Communion with our Lord always begin with a careful examination of our souls, not simply in the light of our knowledge of the faith, but also and in particular, under the gaze of Christ’s patient mercy and healing, so generously made available in the Sacrament of Confession.
Never be afraid of Confession. It reminds us, as St. Paul spoke in the second reading, that before anything or anyone else in this world, Christ claims you and me first. If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart. Stop fighting, surrender and claim the prize of victory, and peace of body and soul is assured.
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time