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Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Gen 21:5, 8-20 & Mt. 8:28-34

We hear so much today of nationalism and ethnic cleansing. The Jews, like many a nation, had great national pride. They were proud to be the descendants of Abraham and, for the most part, because they were God’s chosen people, they considered their neighbours unworthy of God’s favour. But from the first reading God had a lesson to teach them and us. In showing protection of Ishmael He showed love for a people other than the Jews.

The word ‘foreigner’ is never used by God as we often do, with connotations of condescension if not disdain. God loves all people of the world and so must we. The two men in the strange Gospel story for today were not Jews, and yet Jesus came to their rescue. Love of country is one thing, but any form of nationalism or ethnic pride which fails to recognise the dignity, the equality and the worth of every human being is not what God expects of us.

Today's Gospel will always be controversial. People will always question Jesus' course of action, asking whether it was really necessary for Him to allow that herd of pigs to be destroyed in order to free two men of demons. Our faith teaches us that, because Jesus is God, all wise and all loving, whatever He does is right.

But there are some people who make a hullabaloo about the destruction of the pigs and yet think nothing is wrong with abortions! Or again, there are some people who rear livestock and think nothing of the care and welfare of those same animals when they have to be transported miles to another country in dreadful crammed conditions, without food or water for many hours. We can be certain that Jesus by His course of action is not condoning cruelty and ill-treatment to animals, but teaching us that we can never compare the value of a herd of swine with the value of a person's life.

The supreme tragedy of this story lies in its conclusion. Those who were herding the pigs ran back to the town and told the people what had happened and the result was that the people begged Jesus to leave their territory at once. Here is human selfishness at its worst. It did not matter to them that two men had been freed from demons and given back their reason. They should have rejoiced over this. All that mattered to them was that their pigs had perished. We can feel for them that their livelihood had gone, of course, but they could have shown some happiness for the two men who were given a better quality of life.

Jesus wants us to remember that human life is to be valued above not only animal life but also above material profits. Those people who asked Him to leave certainly lost because He could have raised the quality of their lives. We too can lose out if we live only for profit and fail to invite Jesus and His way of thinking into our lives.

Do we always remember to thank our heavenly Father for all the good things He gives us? Do we rejoice when other people have good things come their way or are we envious and resentful? Perhaps we too need Jesus to exorcise from us the demons of envy and resentment? We need Jesus’ help as did the people who told Him to leave their neighbourhood.

Heavenly Father, we pray for the unity of our world, that we will recognise the value of human life, and that we are all Your children.

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