Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Devil in the details: Lent 2

This Lent, I will be preaching on the theme of finding the Devil in the details of the Sunday gospel readings.

Last week, we heard about how the devil fell from heaven and is a defeated foe, but like a wounded animal, still dangerous. He knows he’s doomed, so all he can do is make as big a mess as possible for us and for God on his way to hell.

The devil’s chief weapon against us is temptation; he even tested Jesus in the wilderness during his forty days of fasting and prayer. St Padre Pio once said, “Remember, the Devil has only one door with which to enter into our soul: our will. There are no secret or hidden doors. No sin is a true sin if we have not willfully consented.”

St Peter reminded us that the devil is always prowling about, looking for opportunity. We must therefore, be sober and be vigilant to resist him.

There once was a couple trying to make it on a very tight budget. The wife came home to her husband after a day of shopping. She had spent way too much on a fancy evening dress. As she showed it too him, she said, “I know I spent too much on this dress, but I tried it on and it just looked so tempting in the mirror.”

The husband said, “Well why didn’t you just say, ‘Get behind me, Satan’?”

She said, “I did! . . . But then the Devil told me how great it looked from the back.”

In today’s gospel, we pick up just after Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Christ. Another evangelist, St Matthew, informs us that it was on this occasion that Jesus blessed him for that statement of faith with a new name (Peter/Rock) and with the gift of authority—the keys of binding and loosing.

Now Jesus starts talking about what lay ahead—suffering and death on a cross, and Peter would have none of it. He rebukes Jesus and Jesus rebukes him. So we have gone from Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ to Jesus’ confession of Peter as Satan in just four verses.

Peter pulls Jesus aside and argues with him . . . “Suffering? Death? I just told you that you’re the Messiah, and you agreed! But that’s not what the Messiah is like.”

It was on old temptation of the devil resurfacing on the lips of Jesus' own apostle--the one he had just called the rock of his Church. The devil hates the cross, because it sealed his fate and God’s victory. A triumphant worldly king of a Messiah is no real threat to the Devil.

But Jesus saw right through it. He knew his path led to the cross at Jerusalem. “Get out of my way, Satan! You are not on the side of God, but of men.” The Amplified Bible reads: “For you do not have a mind intent on promoting what God wills, but what pleases men.”

After this, Jesus called all the disciples together and explained to them that being a disciple means following his lead, not blocking his path. “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

How often have you and I gotten in the way of God? How often have we opposed his work, just by speaking our minds? By sharing words of doubt or criticism or even despair?

We can be Satan in a particular circumstance—we can sin, we can being doing the Devil’s work (just like Peter did in that instant), merely by what we say to someone else at a critical moment in their life. It can tempt them or it can bless them.

In formulating her moral theology over the centuries, the Church has found nine ways of being a participant in the sins of another: by counsel, by command, by consent, by provocation, by praise or flattery, by concealment, by partaking, by silence, and by defense of the sin.

To illustrate, (and since it’s that time of year) let’s take the example of cheating on your income taxes.

1. By counsel. “Don’t you know how to avoid an audit? Stop by and I’ll show you.”

2. By command. “You have to do this because we are all in it together.”

3. By consent. “The government does immoral things. We should pay full price.

4. By provocation. “I double dog dare you to do it. Come on, you chicken”

5. By praise or flattery. “Good for you for sticking it to them. Serves ‘em right!”

6. By concealment. “It didn’t see anything. I wouldn’t know anything about it.”

7. By partaking. “Listen, our Treasurer can give us all receipts for huge deductions.”

8. By silence. “It will be our little secret. I won’t tell if you won’t tell.”

9. By defense of the sin committed. “Well everybody’s doing it. They just write it off.”

The Devil loves to get in the way when it comes to doing the right thing, and these are nine ways we become Satan, nine ways we participate in the sin of the Devil. Don’t follow him; don’t let yourself do the Devil’s work. We are called to follow Jesus, to walk the way of a disciple. It’s our duty to avoid sin and foster goodness—both in ourselves and in others.

Stay focused on Jesus; keep him as number one in your life. The more you are focused on yourself, the more you are prone to sin and to unhappiness. The more you are focused on the Lord, the more your path will stay clear of sin and the more happy and humble you will become.

Being a disciple means following his lead, not blocking his path. “If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

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