Third Sunday in Lent 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

In today’s Gospel a curtain rises on a dramatic scene. Our Lord is exorcising a devil from a man who had been unable to speak. The onlookers murmur in astonishment as the man’s tongue loosens. They cannot deny that something truly miraculous has happened in front of them. The underlying veracity of the moment speaks for itself, and yet the crowd refuses to accept it for what it is. Some of them insist this miracle worker is an agent of Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies, even though as Christ Jesus makes clear in response it makes no sense for Satan to have as his emissary a man casting out other devils. As He says, “every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand?” Some of the others demand another sign from heaven. They want more proof, and when the next miracle is insufficient for them they will move the goalposts further and demand yet another exhibition of divine power after that. There is no satisfying a faithless man. He has a hunger that obstinately refuses to be sated, a thirst that willfully refuses to be quenched. In the end, nothing is good enough for him. He will accept no final answer to his inquiries, no resolution to his life’s journey. He will pride himself in his eternal skepticism, his piercing questions and subtle deflections; his insinuation that truth is really nothing more than something to be dabbled in spirited repartee at a cocktail party. “Better to fancy soft opinions,” the faithless man will say. “Like wearing a pink necktie this season for no other reason than that it is in fashion, and then replacing it next year with a blue one. In this way we never allow for the truth to get in the way of what is convenient, sensible, and polite.”

We sometimes castigate the faithless skeptic as a man caught up in his own pedantic god complex. We say that he will not bend the knee to anything but to his own moral and intellectual superiority. That is true in some cases, but from my own experience over the years the faithless skeptic is characterized much more by fear than by self-aggrandizement. He is obstinate in his disbelief because deep down he is frightened of what faith would demand of him. I am reminded here of St. Augustine’s wayward prayer as recounted in his Confessions. As a young man, the future saint enjoyed his unchaste and profligate life. He knew well from the example of his devout Christian mother that he should behave differently, but he had a taste for wine and women he did not want to set aside. He famously prayed, “Lord, make me be pure, but not yet.” St. Augustine understood that with faith comes responsibility. It is not enough for a faithful man to clean his house. He must endeavor to keep it clean and tidy, lest the devil come back to his old haunt, the man’s unreconstructed soul, and render it all worse than before. As Christ Jesus warns us all, “the last state of that man is worse than the first.” He goes on to say that the real blessed are those who not only hear and respond favorably to the word of God, but who also keep it. True faith is not a moment, but a lifetime. It is not one dramatic decision for Christ; so much as it is a lifetime of small, subtle, often unsung decisions for Christ. Faith is sure, consistent, dependable. It means that no matter when and where the bugle sounds we shall be sure to muster with our uniforms pressed and our muskets cleaned.

We count ourselves among the faithful, and yet so often we surrender to the darker temptations of the devil, or we conform to the fashionable ideas that prevail among our neighbors. We set aside inconvenient truths for convenient opinions. Mastering kind, unassuming pleasantries, we go along to get along, lest we stick out like a sore thumb and invite the ridicule or the scorn that can make life particularly difficult or even intolerable. We revert into callous, faithless behaviors, even when deep down we know better, because faith demands that we take an unpopular stand for Christ Jesus in a world still in rebellion against His Father’s Kingdom.

As Christ Jesus declares in Matthew 10:34: “Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Our Lord is forever separating out the wheat from the chaff, the sheep from the goats, and being faithful means choosing sides and remaining there for the long term no matter the price. For with Christ Jesus there is no middle ground. You cannot remain a Switzerland on the topic. There is no room for affable neutrality. You are with the Allies, or you are with the Axis. You are with Him, or you are against Him. As Our Lord says to the faithless, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”

Scattering is an important word here. Earlier, some in the crowd had castigated Our Lord as an emissary of Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies. We know flies to be nature’s scavengers, but they are also scatterers. If there is disease in one place, the flies will swoop in and spread that disease everywhere. If there is despair here, then the flies will swarm and spread that same despair over there. In God’s Kingdom, there is the communion of the saints; eternal worship characterized by harmony, concord, and love. In Beelzebub’s Kingdom, there is instead the confusion of the damned; discord and despair spreading about like a swarm. What Our Lord is saying is that you may gather with Him, or scatter with the devil. The latest fashionable opinions and soft pleasantries do not provide a middle ground where we may dabble with but never commit to a life of faith. If we imagine ourselves to be agnostic, we are not. We have made our decision, and it is not for Christ. Moreover, the faithless have real world ramifications beyond themselves. For if they are siding with the flies, then they are scattering with the flies. Faithlessness may be personal, but it is never private. It is contagious, and in our fallen world it is always in league with the sign of the times. Faithfulness is the mirror opposite. It may start off as a personal decision for Christ, but it is not meant to be a private affiliation. It grows in communion with the saints, others who are struggling with the faith, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit it finally and fully blossoms into eternal life. If the faithless have their contagion, we faithful have the overflowing river of living water. If they have their flies, we have the Holy Spirit. In everything you say and do you will choose one or the other, and so do not pretend to be able to set aside that choice. God loves us all too much to allow us to shirk our duty.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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