Jesus steps into the perilous territory of evil and the demonic, not with trepidation, but with power and authority. Last Sunday, we saw Him strike that domain with valor, forcing a man out of the throes of demonic oppression. Yet, for every single person freed, Satan holds two more in demonic bondage. He spares no breath as he skewers to inflict suffering on the rest of the children of God. Therefore, we are faced each day by misery and plagued with both mysterious and manufactured illnesses, environmental disasters, wars, acutely invented lies, obsequious ideological dicta framed to turnover and turnaround our socio-moral terrain. Evil seeks nothing but the capitulation of all good children of God to its governing structure. The evil one churns out day by day acolytes of his infamous trickery who cheerlead for him against the gullible and the vulnerable. He equips them with smart tongues, puréed eloquence and avidity to sway the unsuspecting to his ways. Without tact and the support of God’s spirit, Christians will not be able to escape the onslaught of the demonic.
Today’s first reading presents Job as one caught in the throes of the demonic. Faced with untold misery, he sees himself as a slave chained with a hot iron rod. Sleep eludes him and the night just drags on as he growls in anguish. But that’s not the entire story for Job. In fact, today’s responsorial psalmody, “Laudate Dominum, qui sanat contritos corde” (Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted) gives a hint about the reward of those who in the face of suffering, like Job, place their trust in God: “He binds up their wounds and sustains them amidst every adversity.” Job, by proving himself one whose loyalty belongs to the Almighty overcomes every woe and is rewarded and clothe with divine recompense. Not even the total loss of property, his children, a loathsome disease, and the mechanized opinions and suggestions of his friends would make him detract from the path of righteousness. Yet, he inquires and even demands a response from God Himself about why the righteous should suffer. We’re all too familiar with that line of questioning in our own life. We all want answers from God. Don’t we?
God’s answer to Job (and to us) is Jesus. In order to remake the entire spiritual structure damaged by sin, God, in Jesus, inaugurates a new kingdom. The Preface of the Solemn Feast of Christ the Universal King outlines the constitutive elements of this new kingdom. To establish this kingdom, the anointed One of God will offer Himself on the altar of the Cross as a spotless sacrifice to bring us peace. In this way, He will accomplish the mysteries of human redemption and make all created things subject to His rule. And to present a new spiritual orbit to the immensity of God’s majesty, the Preface then details a line item of what follows: “...an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” Kingdoms are not won without a fight. Thus we see at the climax of Jesus’ life, the entire panoply of evil—hatred, injustice, institutional corruption, violence, cruelty—descend upon Him. He fights them off, not armor for armor; but, with the weapon of love and mercy, he swallows up even the worst of all enemies—death.
Today’s Gospel has Him at the first stage of the battle for the kingdom. He shows in the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law that He possesses power over sickness. By confronting and expelling demons inhabiting people, He shows, too, that He could hold captivity captive. But He knew that His mission extends beyond healing a single fever. [I imagine that Peter’s mother-in-law did suffer another fever that ended her mortal life]. Expelling a few demons was such great feat, but He needed to strike that final uppercut that would demolish the entire superstructure of evil forever. Hence, at the final stage of the battle, He takes the war to the devil by submitting to death, fighting and defeating the evil one at his own territory of the grave. There He completes the battle of freeing humanity held captive, and winning for us the new life of the resurrection.
Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo