Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Jesus and the Demons

Imagine what the scene would have been like two thousand years ago when Jesus preached at the synagogue in Capernaum. Not only was His message compelling, unlike anything they would have heard before, but signs and wonders were attending His words. Right before their eyes demons were being cast out convulsing and shrieking as they left. We can imagine how shaken up and amazed they would have been. What if such a thing were to happen in the middle of my homily? It would either make you want to come back next week to see what else would happen or make you so afraid that you would never want to come back again. Either way you would never forget it. And we can be sure that those who heard Jesus and witnessed His power never forgot what they saw that day either.

Why did such an event take place? Was Jesus just trying to impress the people and convince them of the truth of His message? To understand today’s passage we have to remember that we are still reading from the beginning of Saint Mark’s gospel. Jesus has been baptized by John and the Holy Spirit has descended upon Him like a dove. After being tempted in the desert, He appears in Galilee preaching the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. After gathering His first disciples, He now appears in the synagogue in Capernaum casting out demons who proclaim Him to be the Holy One of God. By this act, Jesus is demonstrating that now that the Kingdom of God has come among them the reign of Satan has come to an end. As Son of God He will undo all the evil that the devil has wrought in the world. By forgiving sinners who come to Him, He will show His power over sin. By healing the lame, the blind and the deaf, He will show His power over illness. By raising the dead, He will show His power over death. However His greatest triumph over the devil will come when He shows total obedience to the Father’s plan, embraces the cross and rises on the third day. With the appearance of Jesus on earth, Satan and his minions are through.

This is an important truth which we need to keep always in mind. The state of today’s world can make it difficult for us to keep our hope alive. With so many people turning away from the path of life we can be tempted to think that we are losing the battle. No matter how bleak the world’s situation may appear we have to always remind ourselves that God has already won the victory in Christ. Though the world seems to have utterly rejected the gospel and though so many live without a thought for the poor and needy, we must remember that nothing happens unless our Heavenly Father permits it. He is working quietly in the hearts of all peoples - believers and unbelievers alike - to shine the light of His Truth. God sees the world in a much different way than we do. What seem like failures to us are successes to God. We know that by looking on the cross which seemed to be the ultimate triumph of sin and death but rather ushered in these centuries of grace in which we now stand. We must take heart then and never give up. The victory is won. We have only to be faithful to God’s word to have that victory play itself out in our lives.

Now it is one thing for us to get depressed when we see the condition our world is in. It is quite another story to see what kind of condition WE are in. We are all sinners. Each of us falls short of the gospel message. We are all struggling with our own inner demons. There are times when we fear that we are making no progress in the spiritual life. We confess the same sins over and over without being able to overcome them. Because of our failures, we can feel like utter hypocrites and guilt can begin to take hold of us. Here again we need to remind ourselves that Jesus has already won the victory over our personal sin and has conquered our sinful human nature. When we feel tempted, when an evil thought enters our mind, that is the time to turn to Jesus and ask Him to give us strength. We cannot do it without His help. And He is always ready to assist us with His grace so that we can know His power over the Evil One and live in freedom.

Now we must also accept that during this earthly life we will never be completely free from sin. Our nature is such that we will fall from time to time. But God’s mercy is great. He is always willing to forgive us. We must also keep in mind that if there is a sin we have been struggling with for many years there may be a reason that God is allowing it. It could be that it is keeping us humble. If we were to totally master our sinful habits it might fill us with pride that could lead to even deadlier sins. Also our weak human nature teaches us to be merciful to others, to have compassion on the needy and to forgive those who offend us. If we were never to fall ourselves, we might become judgmental and harsh to those who are weaken than we are. Finally, our weakness reminds us that we cannot live the Christian life by our own will-power. We are in constant need of God’s help. Our sinful nature makes us turn to Him for consolation and strength. In this way, God can even use our weakness and sinfulness to bring us closer to Him.

So no matter what we are facing we need never lose hope and we need never be afraid. God is in total control. He has won the victory. His power is hidden now, known only to those who have faith, but it will one day be made manifest when Christ comes again. So we continue to struggle,  and sometimes fail, but we hold on to a lively hope that we will one day know the full freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

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