29 February 2016

Homily for Lent 3 - Oculi

"Divine Invasion"
Luke 11:14-28; Exodus 8:16-24; Ephesians 5:1-9

Listen here.

Pharaoh’s magicians knew they had met their match. They could not imitate the miracle of the gnats. You see, they did not serve the God who gives life and who creates things out of nothing. They told their master: “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh would not listen to them. His heart was hardened. He would persist in resisting the will of the God of Israel, even to his own harm and the near destruction of his land. In our Old Testament reading, God works a miracle that brings some to faith while others persist in their unbelief and refuse to heed the words of God.

The same thing happens in our Gospel reading. Our Lord Jesus performs a great miracle. He releases a man who had been kept mute by a demon. He drives the demon out and sets the poor man free. When this formerly mute man begins to speak, some marvel. No doubt they remember the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had foretold that when God would come to save His people, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is. 35:5). “Surely,” they said to each other, “we are living in the days foretold by the prophet. Listen to the mute man now. He’s singing for joy to the Lord, his Healer!”

Others, however, see the miracle and do not smile; they do not rejoice. No, they frown and they scowl. “Do you know how He’s able to cast out demons?” they ask. “I’ll tell you: He’s in league with them! He’s made a pact with Beelzebul, the Lord of the flies, the prince of the demons. He is Satan’s pawn.”

And still others are perplexed by the conflicting opinions. They beg Him to clear it all up by giving some sign from heaven, something to show that He really is on the side of God and not the demons.

Our Lord is absolutely amazed that people can even think such thoughts. “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” It’s as though He says: “Open your eyes, people. Does it look to you like Satan is fighting a civil war? No way. He has you just where he wants you. He wants you miserable, afflicted, torn down and discouraged. He wants you fearful and doubting and fighting each other as though your neighbor were the enemy. Get real. His army is in lockstep formation; they’re not about to break ranks with him.”

In his book, Grace Upon Grace, Dr. John Kleinig writes that Satan makes his attacks on two fronts. He calls them the “front door attack” and the “back door attack.” “In the front door attack,” Dr. Kleinig writes, “[Satan] tries to break the conscience by attacking our faith in Christ; in the back door attack he attempts to gain a secret foothold by attacking our love for our fellow Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ” (Grace Upon Grace, 234). Satan is certainly using the “back door attack” in our Gospel reading. He also uses that strategy with us on a daily basis.

So Jesus says, “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”

No, Jesus’ coming among us has not triggered a civil war in the demonic realm. You see, Satan is the strong man, fully armed with his lies—lies that he uses to shackle and imprison us. And he was guarding his palace. He was thinking that we were all safely his. Until one day Someone stronger than he showed up on his doorstep. That would be our Lord. 

And our “Stronger-Man Savior” proceeded to attack him, to overcome him, to take from him the weapons of his lies and expose them for what they really are, and then to divide his spoil. And how did He divide that spoil? By releasing those whom the devil had kept in prison—you, me, and the whole human race. So, no, it’s not a civil war among the demons. No, this is a full-out, head-on Divine invasion. Stronger Man Jesus invades demon-occupied territory. The Apostle John said it this way: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

But the unclean spirits do not easily give up their prey, Jesus warns us. Rather, after they are driven out, they are in misery, and they seek a way to return to their human host. And if they come back and find their host like a house swept and put in order, but not filled with the Stronger Man, they bring a bunch of their buddies and move back in with…and with a vengeance. “The last state of that person is worse than the first,” Jesus says.

It’s not enough that Satan merely be driven out. Baptism certainly accomplishes that. The Word of God promises that, and the Baptism liturgy confesses it. Not only must Satan be driven out, but he must also be kept out. And there’s only way for that to happen. When the demon rings the doorbell, you must ask the Stronger Man to go answer the door for you. When the Stronger Man, the Lord Jesus, dwells in you, then you have nothing to fear from the demons.

You see, Jesus has already won the victory in His Divine invasion. His suffering and death on the cross and His glorious resurrection from the dead are the decisive battle. Stronger Man Jesus has attacked the devil and has overcome him!

Dr. Kleinig is very good and very helpful on this too. He writes:
“All people remain in the darkness until Christ comes and teaches them His Father’s Word with authority. That Word discloses and exposes the darkness. With that Word Christ dispels the darkness from human hearts. With that Word He sends Satan and his spirits packing. Everything, therefore, depends on Christ and His victory. Through His self-sacrificial death for our sins and His resurrection for our justification He has won the victory for us. All that remains to be done now in this period of history is to mop up the remaining outposts of darkness here on planet earth” (Grace Upon Grace, 239).

A woman in the crowd cries out: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” She is thankful for the Lord and His teaching. But the Lord comes back with a surprise answer: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Now Jesus is not putting down His mother, the Virgin Mary. Rather, the Lord is pointing the way to how HE may dwell within us: He comes and dwells with His words. And if there’s one thing St. Luke reveals about Mary it’s that she too loved, treasured and kept the words spoken to her.

Where the words of God find a home inside of you, the Lord Jesus finds a home in you—along with His Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus also says: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn. 14:23). So on this Third Sunday in Lent, the Church reminds her children that, yes, the evil one can be kept at bay. He can be kept at bay only when the Stronger One lives within us.

And when the Stronger One—Jesus—dwells within us by means of His words, we will not be like those St. Paul mentions in our Second Reading. They lose the “inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God,” the inheritance won on the cross and given in the Gospel and the Sacraments. How so? They invite the demons back in through their sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness. They open the door themselves through their filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking. Instead, we who once were darkness get to be light in the Lord, walking “as children of light,” because Jesus, the Light of the world, makes His home in us.

So, come and receive the Lord’s holy Meal. Here He who loved you and gave Himself up for you as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God upon Calvary’s tree, comes to fill you with His own forgiveness and life. Here the finger of God touches you still. Here the Kingdom of God comes upon you. Here the Stronger Man, against whom Satan is no match, comes to dwell among sinners to set you free, to keep you free, and to keep you His forever. Amen.

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