Last Sunday, something went wrong with the audio portion of the live stream of the 11:00 a.m. Liturgy. If you were watching the 11:00 a.m. Sunday Liturgy on our live stream, you were probably frustrated by the absence of sound. I don’t know what went wrong; everything worked properly at the 9:00 a.m. Liturgy on Sunday and again on Monday morning for daily Liturgy.
I understand the basic operation of our video equipment, but I don’t have any grasp of the technical details of the cameras or streaming device. When asked why something went wrong with the live stream, I usually respond that the guardian angels in charge of televised Masses must have taken a coffee break. It could, of course, be the case that live video is the result of the work of magical elves, perhaps the digital cousins of the Keebler elves but, as this is a Catholic church, I’m guessing it’s angels.
The human mind craves and requires explanations for natural events; when there is no rational explanation, we invent an explanation. The “demons” mentioned in today’s Gospel reading are an example of an invented explanation of the events that occur in the physical universe.
Today, we have a very detailed understanding of infection and illness. Fever, like the one that afflicted Simon’s mother-in-law, is the body’s response to infection. The elevated body temperature of a fever creates an unfavorable environment for the spread of a bacterial or viral infection. This scientific knowledge didn’t exist during Jesus’ lifetime; as a result, people attributed fevers, aches, and other symptoms of disease to the work of spirits.
It is important to understand that when the Scriptures refer to “spirits” or “demons,” the Scriptures are not referring to our contemporary understanding of spirits or demons. Today, spirits and demons are fictional characters in scary movies or superstitions entertained by the mentally unbalanced. In the Scriptures, a spirit or a demon was an attitude maintained by a person or a power exerted by the natural world. In either case, it was a reference to the natural world rather than to the occult. One could have an “evil spirit” that predisposed one to sin, or one could be affected by an evil intention of the physical universe, leading one to experience the symptoms of disease. The people healed in today’s Gospel reading were afflicted by evil intentions on behalf of the physical universe (or so they thought). Today, we understand that the physical universe is not capable of evil intent as the physical universe has no consciousness.
If we translate the primitive understanding of the physical world that our ancestors in the faith possessed into our present scientific age, we have a perspective on human limitation that remains valid even today.
Human existence entails many limitations. Today’s first reading from the book of Job describes the unavoidable limitations of life when it poses the rhetorical question, “Is not life a drudgery?” (Jb. 7:1) Despite our wishes and efforts to the contrary, all of us experience suffering and loss. The relentlessness of our limitations threatens to dehumanize us, leaving us indistinguishable from the inanimate objects in the world.
Jesus’ death of the Cross offers us the possibility of redemption from the dehumanizing and destructive effects of our limitations. The Christian Faith proclaims that Jesus’ death is our victory over sin and death. This means that faith in Jesus overcomes our natural limitations by healing the moral evil that people choose (sin) and the physical evil that is unavoidable in this world (death).
Jesus’ healing ministry, described in today’s Gospel reading, foreshadowed the redemption that would be made possible by his death on the Cross. By healing Simon’s mother-in-law and the others brought to him, Jesus demonstrated God’s power to redeem us and our limitations. The limitations imposed on us by this world remain, but they are redeemed and made holy; they are re-fashioned into experiences of God’s power and presence.
We are fortunate that we no longer live in the darkness of a pre-scientific understanding of the universe. We have an understanding of the physical world, and of our own existence, that far exceeds that of any previous age. No longer do we have to invent explanations for disease or infection or other natural occurrences. We are immeasurably more fortunate, however, that we don’t live in the darkness of unbelief. For Jesus’ faithful followers, there is ultimate victory over sin and death, and proximate redemption of our limitations. We look forward to the Last Day when we will share in Jesus’ Resurrection. Until that day, we have hope in God’s power to save and to heal.