28When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?
7Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes* asked Jesus* to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus* sent him away, saying, 39‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
There has been a wealth of evidence in recent years showing the positive benefits of virtues such as kindness, gratitude and humility. Among those potential benefits: Higher levels of compassion, fewer mental health issues, lower blood pressure, a greater sense of meaning in one’s life and stronger relationships. It is a good way to live – good for the one expressing gratitude and good for the receiver. Good for our families, our communities, our world. ¹
But the research also validates what pastors, priests, ministers, therapists, social workers know; that in the face of distress gratitude cannot be sustained on its own. In bad times, it is faith that sustains gratitude. “Your faith has made you well“, says Jesus to the 10th leper (yesterday’s gospel).
Gratitude in good times is easy.
Gratitude in bad times is better, made possible by our faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, our strength and our redeemer.
The demoniac of today’s gospel is living in bad times – he, like the 10th leper, is in a bad state. But he, like the 10th leper, knows Jesus as the Son of the Most High – cries out to him to have mercy. He goes to Jesus, greets Jesus. Has faith in Jesus. Jesus heals him. His faith made him well.
You’d think this would be a good thing for his neighbors to have observed. Like the positive effects of simple gratitude, having witnessed a healing you’d expect they, too would fall at Jesus’ feet, praising the Lord, God. You’d think the last thing they would have thought was to be fearful, to turn away from Jesus. Who turns away from Jesus? Who asks Jesus to leave?
I have a friend who is in a season of trial – really bad times, nothing from his perspective going right. He has no faith – borders on atheism, actually. Though raised in a Christian church, he never had an experience – a personal experience of the Holy Spirit to take root in his life. He developed a skeptic’s disposition in his college years, one abetted by a gifted scientific mind to keep doubt and suspicion about a God properly distanced from his world view. For all intents and purposes, he asked Jesus to leave.
While no faith, he has tried to live gratefully. He is known to his family and friends as a kind person. He appreciated what he had, what he had acquired, reveled in the gift of his children. But now, as I said, tough times. Distress. Life is not going the way it did for so many years and headed somewhere he had never anticipated. He’s not angry, he is not blaming others, but he is in despair. It is easy to be grateful in good times. Without faith, hard to sustain in the bad times.
At the outset of this trouble, I advised he switch his lens. Instead of naming all the things that were wrong with his life – things for which he had no control – I encouraged him to express gratitude for what was good and right in his world. I could see them. He agreed and tried. But it hasn’t lasted. It was an exercise program that couldn’t stick because his heart was not in it. Like a vacuous New Year’s resolution. No faith behind the expression. Even though he has seen how faith has sustained most of his friends and family through their tough times, even though he has witnessed miracles like the demonaic’s neighbors, he can’t get with the program. He turns away from Jesus every time he is given a chance to draw near. It scares him.
I don’t know how to help my friend right now, but I trust the Lord, does. I know a cloud of witnesses hovers over him and his life. Though they may look different to him than they do to you and me – the cynic, skeptic in him sees nothing but the world gone wrong, even in the skies (as Dan Piraro’s strip illustrates), I trust he’ll see differently one day.
I trust our God’s steadfast faith in him – a faith that sustains God’s gratitude for my friend, even in these tough times when my friend has rejected him. I trust that in due course and in God’s time, God’s faith will make my friend well.