The Third Sunday in Lent
March 24, 2019 AD
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Luke 11:23
When you were baptized and when you were confirmed you were asked, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?” And you answered – either through your godparents at our baptism or you yourself answered at your confirmation – with the single word “Yes.” “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways? Yes.” A simple answer to a simple question! But what follows in not simple at all for by answering that question with a “Yes” you in fact enlisted as a soldier in the battle with Satan and his legions, a battle which never ends until we leave this present world and like the poor beggar Lazarus are carried by angels into the paradise of God. “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways? Yes.” A simple answer to a simple question, but the living out of that answer is the work of a lifetime.
In the Gospel for the this day Jesus speaks of the work of Satan by means of a comparison, an illustration. He says, “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe, but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil.” Satan is like that strong man, fully armed, guarding his own palace, his goods safe – until one stronger that he attacks and overcomes him. What our Lord is saying is this: By nature you and I and every human being who has ever lived is a palace or castle of the evil one, a place where he swells and does all the mischief he can. As long as God permits this, Satan has his own way. There is no struggle, no distress, no misgiving of conscience – people go contentedly down the broad way which leads to destruction. This is that full power of Satan which Saint Paul speaks when he writes of those who are “without God in the world,” and, worst of all, not even aware of their plight.
From this condition the merciful Lord delivers us when we are brought to Holy Baptism and there made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven. Says Saint Paul, “God has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son.” God did that for each one of you when you were baptized, when you in fact renounced the devil and all his works and all his ways. But the struggle to live out the renunciation goes on as long as we live – just as we learned in the Catechism: Baptism “signifies that the Old Adam in us should through daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires and again a new person comes forth who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
Every day of our lives, every moment, we are caught up in that struggle between the power of Satan and the power of Christ. “Whoever is not with Me is against Me,” says the Lord Jesus, “and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” There can be no neutrality! “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways? Yes.”
In the Epistle for this day Saint Paul spells out something of what that means for our daily lives, what if means to be WITH Christ rater than against HIM. Paul says, “Be imitators of God as beloved children,” the point being that just as little children who love their parents will try to be like them as much as they can, just so we as the children of God try to be like the heavenly Father, we know in His Son Jesus. Paul then immediately adds: “And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Anything that contradicts love contradicts Christ, is against Christ. And so we are called to love the human beings God places in our lives. And that isn’t always an easy thing! It is so much easier to be indifferent and ignore people or even respond in kind when they do us harm. “Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” If there is someone you find it hard to forgive, picture in your mind the crucified Savior, and then picture yourself on one side of His cross an this difficult person on the other, and listen to the Savior as He prays, “Father, forgive them…” Whoever is not WITH Me is AGAINST Me and whoever does not GATHER with Me scatters.”
The world in which the Lord’s apostles lived and worked was a world no less decayed than our own. The cities of that time were in fact notorious havens for vice of every description And so Paul admonishes the Christians in Ephesus: “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you…Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking which are out of place.” And Paul hastens to add: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”
But it is never enough to avoid what is wrong in the eyes of God, it is also necessary to replace what is wrong with what is pleasing in God’s eyes. How we need to take to heart the words Saint Paul addressed to the Christians in the city of Phillipi! “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, it there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
“Whoever is not WITH me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Our Lord clearly teaches that in the battle with Satan and with sin there can be no neutrality. These are the words of the Son of God who will come to be our Judge and they speak to the conscience of every one of us. No doubt some may find it hard to accept them, just as it is hard, very hard to bring home to ourselves that although we cannot save ourselves – only God can do that – we are in fact mysteriously free to damn ourselves. And from that fate may God in His mercy save us all!
He is the merciful Lord who, as Saint John writes, appeared “to destroy the works of the devil.” We heard in the Gospel, that when Jesus was accused of casting out devils with the help of the Prince of the devils, He replied: “If I by the finger of God cast out devils, the kingdom of God has come upon you.” God’s kingly rule of compassion, mercy and that “love to the loveless shown what we might lovely be.” In Jesus’ struggle with Satan in the wilderness, in His life of perfect obedience to the Father’s will, in His precious pouring out His life-blood to cleanse us from the stain of all our sins, Satan has met his match: the Savior had defeated Him, the decisive battle has been won. And now we but await the unveiling of His victory on that Last and Great Day when the world as we now know it will come to its end and the risen Lord of Love will make all things new. That new world dawned from the open tomb when the Lord rose victorious from the dead, the triumph we shall soon again celebrate with great joy.