Saturday, February 11, 2017

Sixth Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Is the Devil Really Real?

Most of us are not aware of the air we breathe. We take it for granted. Usually we become aware of it when we consciously pause to breathe or when we are short of breath. The more so most of us are not aware that the air we breathe is oxygen. Unless we learned this in school or somebody somewhere else told it to us we would not know that the air we breathe is oxygen and that normally on this planet we are surrounded by this gas.

In the same way unless somebody told us we would not be aware that the air around us is controlled by someone who is a creature like us and that this creature is very interested in us.

Here is the statement of St. Paul the Apostle: “You were dead because of your sins and offenses, as you gave allegiance to the present age and to the prince of the air, that spirit who is even now at work among the rebellious” (Ephesians 2:1-2).

And here is the statement of St. Peter: “Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

These two statements tell us something very far from our mind. The first tells us that the air has a prince, a spirit who works among those who disobey God. The second tells us that this spirit is roaring at us like a lion, ready to devour us. This spirit is our opponent, the devil.

Unless St. Peter and St. Paul told us this we would not be aware of this danger around us, just as normally we are not aware that the air we breathe is oxygen.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us something about this opponent who is trying with all the might at his disposal to devour us, who controls the air we breathe.

Our Gospel reading ends with this sentence: “Anything more is from the evil one.”

Many commentators have discussed the meaning of these last three words “the evil one”.

The immediate context of these three words was that Jesus was talking about swearing or taking an oath. He said that we do not swear at all. Let our yes be really yes and our no be really no. Anything more or beyond this is from the evil one.

The meaning of the last three words differs according to the interpretation of the gender of this noun in the original Greek. Some commentators think that the gender of this noun is neuter. If this is the case, then it can be rendered “of evil” as in some translations. If the gender is masculine then it is rendered properly as in our translation from the New American Bible, “the evil one.” St. John Chrysostom thinks that the latter is correct, the evil one, referring to the devil or Satan.

In other words this statement of Jesus is saying that any lie that we make is of the evil one, the devil. And this conforms with what he said in John 8:44. There we read Jesus telling the Jews who did not believe in him, “The father you spring from is the devil, and willingly you carry out his wishes. He brought death to man from the beginning, and he has never based himself on truth; the truth is not in him. Lying speech is his native tongue; he is a liar and the father of lies”.

But wait a minute. There are some Christians, and even preachers who argue that the devil does not exist. He is only a personification of our ideas, of our sinful nature.

Perhaps the one who made a very good case for this argument was Robert Roberts who published a pamphlet entitled “The Evil One”, subtitled “Bible Teaching Concerning the Devil and Satan”. Roberts was a Christian preacher who lived in the 19th century. In that pamphlet he concluded that the devil or Satan is only sin personified. His last sentence equates Satan or the devil with the world. For him Satan is not a person, only an idea which we personify or attach personal qualities to.

After reading this pamphlet which was very well written with very good arguments for the non-existence of a personal devil I almost believed him, because his arguments were biblical and very sound.

But then I thought: Who was it then who tried to burn my Bible? An idea could not burn it. I had a Bible which I used in my classes. I noticed that it was burned from the inside, not from the outside. The burnt piece of paper was there but it could not have been burned by a human person, because it was burned from the inside.

Upon further thinking about this statement of Jesus I put forth certain arguments against the teaching of Roberts.

First is that we take into consideration the ordinary meaning of the words in the Bible. Again and again we find that the devil is addressed as a person. This is basic in Bible interpretation, take the ordinary meaning of the words there, unless we have good reason to believe otherwise.

Secondly, Jesus tells us that the residence of Satan during the times of the Apostles was in Pergamum. He said in his letter to that Church, “I know you live in the very place where Satan’s throne is erected” (Revelation 2:13). Only a person can have a specific residence. Ideas reside only in the minds of people, not in a physical, material place.

Thirdly, we know that temptations come from the world, the flesh and the devil. If the devil was only a personification of the world or flesh there is no need to list him in this enumeration.

Fourthly, early in Genesis in the story of the fall of Adam and Eve God told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (3:15). Only persons and not ideas produce offspring. Ideas only produce other ideas with the help of persons. Ideas do not reproduce ideas by themselves. Ideas do not strike at the heel of a person. Only another person can do that.

Fifthly, we have the teaching itself of our Catholic Catechism. In the last pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, “2851 In this petition (deliver us from evil), evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who "throws himself across" God's plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ. 2852 "A murderer from the beginning, . . . a liar and the father of lies," Satan is "the deceiver of the whole world."[165] Through him sin and death entered the world and by his definitive defeat all creation will be "freed from the corruption of sin and death."

Satan, the Devil, is indeed a person. He is alive and doing well. According to Jesus his kingdom is still standing. But He has already overcome or conquered Satan.

In the second reading Paul is referring to Satan and his host when he wrote “the rulers of this age who are passing away”.

Satan is the person who tells people that Jesus came to abolish the law so that we can do what we want, who wants us to break the least of Jesus’ commandments as commandments which have least importance, who is behind the insults we hurl at our neighbors, who tell us that it is alright to commit adultery if we are not caught, who tells us it is alright to file a divorce on grounds of incompatibility, that it is alright to tell lies once in a while.

For Jesus the devil was a real person and he was Jesus’ enemy. The enemies of Jesus were not the hard-hearted, hard-headed Jewish priests nor the fickle Jewish mob nor the Roman soldiers and their commanders. The enemy of Jesus was the devil, a person, not a mere idea. Because he is Jesus’ enemy he is also our enemy. He is just moving around us personally or with his demons trying to devour us like a lion would. But thanks be to Jesus who has rescued us from the clutches of the devil. According to Paul in the second reading God has prepared for us a reward that eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, nor has it entered the human heart. This reward is ours because Jesus has vanquished Satan through his death and resurrection and we have given our whole life totally to Jesus.

Let us bow our heads as we pray.

Lord Jesus, you have told us that any lie is of the devil, the father of all lies. You have fulfilled the law for us. Help us to follow you as you and we follow this law of God. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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