Today’s Gospel ends with a tragic request. The whole town of the Gadarenes come out to see what Jesus has done and they beg him to leave. From a worldly perspective, it is wasteful to have an entire herd of swine drown. We could speculate that Jesus could have found a less wasteful way of getting rid of the demons that were possessing those two men. Jesus is not obliged to do what the demons tell him to do after all. Certainly, liberating these two men from the influence of evil spirits was not only good for them, it would also have been good for the townspeople who were unable to travel by the road because of how savage the possessed men were.
The interaction between Lot and Abram is interesting. The Fathers of the Church, and especially St. Ambrose delved deeply into the moral sense of the story. How are we supposed to deal with conflict? Some people basically avoid it, other people like it. We know that both meekness and courage collaborate in a prudent response to disputes and hostility. St. Ambrose tells us that the name “Lot” is interpreted in Latin to mean, “declinatio” or deviation. A deviation can be for good or for evil, but it represents a departure from the present course. Abram, wisely, understood that a departure was necessary. Even though there was no dispute between Lot and himself, he understood that if they went their separate ways they could remain friends. Sometimes a good friend makes a terrible roommate. But notice the humility of Abram when they separate – even though Abram is the one being magnanimous, even though he is the elder, he calls Lot his brother and therefore makes him his equal. In some ways this story reminds me of the prodigal son and his father. Abram is willing to let Lot have the first choice of land because he values peace and quiet most of all. Abram is already rich because he is satisfied with what he has – whereas we do not read that Lot is rich even though he has many possessions. Abram relies on God’s promise to provide, so, without judging Lot, he gives him freedom and space with the hopes that he too will become satisfied.
Paul’s experience of Paradise must have really been something. We could be jealous of him, but we could also recognize that what he saw was probably essential in terms of the motivation he needed to continue through the trials he faced. In some ways, Paul’s life makes more sense when we consider how much extraordinary grace and supernatural help he received. By boasting of his weakness, he himself bears witness to the fact that this is all God’s doing and the only thing he can reliably contribute is his willingness, his endurance, and his suffering. He can boast because he has discovered that the action of the Holy Spirit is what has made him who he is. We can imitate St. Paul by learning how to lean in to our weakness with compunction. We would rather have some kind of reliable stability based on our own control than the support and help of the Holy Spirit. Yet, when we turn more frequently and more fervently to the help of the Spirit, we grow in the most important relationship we have in life.