Last week we observed that Lent is a training period for those new to Christ - and so a great refresher for those who are not so new. The first week prepared the catechumens for the fact that they have an enemy to guard against, who likes to parade around like a friend – the devil. The second week prepared them for those moments of trial when it seems God Himself is against them and sought to strengthen the catechumens to persevere in prayer. This third week continues the pattern. For you see, another obstacle you will face if you are at all serious in following Christ is this: people will bad mouth you. They will speak against you, attribute false motives to you, and suggest that far from following the true God, you’re actually doing the work of the devil. Our Lord made it clear that we should expect nothing less: “Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.”
Our Lord performs a great miracle. Frees a man from a demon that had tied his tongue and locked him away from others, shackled in silence. The people marvel at this wonder, but soon enough, some start attacking Jesus’ works. They say that the awesome power undeniably at work in Him comes from Satan, not God. They bad-mouth Him in the worst way. Here His heart was filled only with love and compassion for lost humanity and yet those He came for, viewed His intentions with suspicion and fear. So they talked trash about Him. How could He get through to them?
Jesus describes the battle in which He is engaged for human souls. He’s perfectly clear that human beings, good creations of God in themselves, since the Fall are in big trouble. They’ve got a parasite living inside. And that parasite is no weakling. Rather, a strong spirit, who has taken up residence and plans to stay put inside of us, until, like all parasites, it finally destroys its host and move on to another victim. Jesus says: “That parasite is strong, but I am stronger. And I have come to attack him, overcome him, and throw him out.”
That of course is what His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead was all about! Overcoming the enemy in seeming weakness and then breaking his stranglehold on human lives with the splash of baptismal water and the power of the Word of God.
But Jesus warns: tossed out, that parasite, that demon, is in agony, searching restlessly for another host, and he keeps searching, and finally goes back to check out the one he’d been driven from. Should he find that host open and empty, the creature moves back in along with seven other spirits worse than himself and the host, the human person, ends up more wretched than he was at the get go.
So just because he’s been sent packing once doesn’t mean that the demon loses interest in you. If anything, you become even more desirable to him, tastier than ever. The message of the holy Church this Sunday then is clear: To cave to the pressure of getting along with others just so they won’t bad mouth you and your faith is to turn away from the Stronger Man, Jesus Christ, leaving your body and soul with a “for rent” sign that the demons soon notice, and then move back in with a vengeance, and the misery really begins. Real misery that St. Paul described in detail in today’s Epistle: “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolator), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things, the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Do not tell yourself: “My sins are forgiven!” if you are living in such; the Scriptures tell you they are not. For your sins are forgiven only IN CHRIST and no such things rule where He lives. As the Apostle said: let no one deceive you in this. Such things take you from the Kingdom; and bring misery upon misery.
If today’s Gospel started with bad-mouthing, it ends with blessing. A woman from the crowd cries out: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” Jesus responds: “More than that, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” Now, He was not putting down His mother. He was pointing out the truly amazing thing about the holy Virgin. St. Luke underscores it time and again.
She not only listened to God’s Word, but she kept it, hid it deep in her heart. She held fast to what the Angel Gabriel told her and the report of the shepherds and the mysterious words Simeon spoke to her in the temple, and the hard words her Son said as a twelve year old lad in the temple. No one and nothing could take that Word from her; she built upon it her faith, her hope, her life. And even when she didn’t understand what she heard, and her brow puckered, she still took those words and hid them deep in her heart and kept them there, and so she was able to open her heart and give those words to St. Luke when he came asking. Do you see then how that way there was no room in her for Satan and his parasites? Because she held to that Word people said some horrible things about her. They still do. But she held to it, nonetheless. She would not let go.
What about you? Have you caved to the pressure of people’s words? Has fear paralyzed you and kept you from doing and speaking what you know is right and God-pleasing? Have you embraced the sin which the Savior died to free you from? Repent! Repent and turn from it!
Today, your Lord stands ready to forgive and renew you by the Spirit of God, the Spirit who drives out the demons as the finger of God (OT lesson) and strengthens people for bold, uncompromising witness to Jesus Christ. He Himself wishes to take up residence within you through His Holy Body and Blood, once offered for you as that "fragrant and sweet-smelling sacrifice to God." (Epistle) Yes, Christian, people will talk trash about you; expect it. They will say: “you think you’re such a do-gooder and that you always think you’re right and everyone else is wrong.” Yes, Satan will tempt you to believe that sexual sin is no big deal - and that life really is about the accumulation of possessions. Don't believe him. He's a liar! Instead, you hold tightly to the Word of God, hear it, keep it, confess it! Satan will then find no more of a hold on your life than he found on the life of the blessed Mother of God. And on the Last Day, the Son of Man will delight to confess you together with His Mother and all who have held to His Word regardless of the cost. He will confess with joy that you are His before the Father and all the Holy Angels; and to the same Lord Jesus with His holy Father and the life-giving Spirit be all the glory now and ever and unto the ages of ages.