Tuesday in the First Week of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: 1 Sam 1:9-20;  Mk 1:21-28

Jesus continues to use His winnowing fan! The people were “amazed” at Jesus. First, they were “astonished” at His teaching “with authority” and then amazed at His freeing a man of an unclean spirit. They were amazed at the person of Jesus Christ.

A “spirit” is that element in us that knows and loves and thus decides. The people in the synagogue were remembering the God Who delivered them from slavery in Egypt. An unclean spirit is a form of slavery. Perhaps it was anxiety or depression or psychosis. Or maybe it was an obsession with lust or acquisitiveness. In any case it was centered on self and blocked out God. So, the man couldn’t free himself; he couldn’t think his way out of it.  But Jesus did it in a flash!

When Jesus drove out the man’s old way of knowing, loving, and deciding there was a vacancy. He didn’t know how to live without an unclean spirit. The old spirit governed his disposition and his perception. It made a difference in his life and so it ordered his sense of importance. And now there was a vacancy. In other words, there was a readiness to change. Jesus begins by winnowing out those who are not ready to change. “Putting off the old” precedes “putting on the new.” The old (but familiar) must be sacrificed. One must be ready to endure the vacancy, the emptiness, the disorientation. One is not “cleaning up her act” or kicking a bad habit. With Christ one is becoming willing to become something new. She doesn’t know what.

This is hard for people entering monasteries because we tend to be idealists. It’s not that we think we are free of defects. We underestimate the depth of our defects. They are revealed in those attachments that we’re not ready to change. A sacrifice must be made. “Sacrifice” means “liberation.” We can only make it in faith. So that vacancy separates the men from the boys; the women from the girls.

In the end we can only say two things: “I must decrease; He must increase” and “I don’t know what that means.”