Franciscan Feast of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary

Lectionary: 379

Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.

In his book The Idea of the Holy, (1917) Rudolf Otto described the apprehension of the numinous as a “tremendous mystery, terrifying and fascinating.” Today’s gospel describes the terror of the Gadarenes when Jesus entered their territory. Had he been an ordinary man, they might have confronted him on the loss of their livelihood; “a herd of swine” had rushed down the embankment into the sea at his command. But they only begged Jesus to go away.

Otto calls this sacred presence the numinous. Despite its overwhelming charm one who approaches the Sacred feels the earth tremble under his feet, as if it might give way. He might be swallowed by a chasm opening beneath him.

Many of his contemporaries saw the holy in Jesus. They sensed it at his approach. They saw it when he walked on water, or commanded a haul of fish, or stilled the raging storm. Even a simple remark -- “I saw you under the fig tree – could arouse profound astonishment. Peter was shaken to his core when the landlubber suggested he fish off the starboard side, “Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man.”

In Jesus we meet the irony of a Divinity walking in our world. He could disappear into a crowd, as he did after healing a blind man in Jerusalem; as he did during his “hidden years.” Or he could reveal himself to ready believers with a quiet gesture or a simple word. At his approach the congregation sings, “O come let us adore him.”

Religion cultivates this feeling of the sacred. We find in it more than moral guidance; the human being must be reminded of the right ordering of the universe: that there must be a God. Only God is necessary. We are contingent, living at his behest; like the universe, which also exists due to his good favor. In God's presence the best of us is only dust and ashes

Without this awareness of the sacred, of the way things really are, humans suppose they are gods and fight one another in a savage struggle for power. God in his mercy saves us from that by revealing his awe-full majesty. 

1 comment:

  1. This homily has been wedged in my brain for days now. Maybe too often, modern Christians are encouraged to think of Jesus as a friend. Someone you can hang out with. "The Divinity walking among humans." Frequently you mention this notion of "one who approaches the Sacred feels the earth tremble under his feet." How do I, a simple human, approach this mighty God? Do I dare to come close, or do I run to hide? Food for thought.


I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.