10th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached June 10, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it. Since the time of Adam and Eve men and women have continually bought into, or bit into the lies of the devil. Jesus says of the devil both that he is a murderer and that he is a liar and the father of lies. (cf. Jn 8:44) The devil is a murderer precisely because he is the father of lies; he kills by means of his lies. Further, as a murderer it is not so much the body that the devil kills; rather he slays souls, bringing them to join him in the eternal death that we call ‘hell’.
Lies and trickery make life to be rather complicated and for that same reason today’s readings are rather complex. I will begin with a sort of genealogy of lies, but I will not let lies have the last word. Jesus Christ vanquishes the lies of the devil with the splendor of truth.
First, there are the big lies that the devil tells and that are repeated by human beings, wittingly or unwittingly.
It seems that most people do not spend much time reflecting on the big questions of the meaning and purpose of life, but everyone, whether they know it or not, has a view on the matter which shapes their thoughts and actions. If they do not spend time examining their own presuppositions, there is a good chance that they have already bought into the devil’s big lies. Those big lies are about God and about the meaning and purpose of human life.
Here is the devil’s original lie: You certainly will not die. No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is evil. (Gen 3:5) This fundamental lie is about God and about the meaning and purpose of human life.
The lie about God cuts at the bond of trust in God’s goodness; the devil portrays God as we might conceive a human tyrant, as powerful, but fearful of losing his power, and so using deceit to manipulate his subjects and keep them from discovering their real power. The devil achieves the same effect today when he succeeds in removing God altogether from the horizon of human life, when he persuades us that we are nothing more than puny insignificant beings in a vast cosmos, devoid of meaning.
The devil’s lie also limits the meaning and purpose of human life to this mortal life; the devil flatters us, telling us that we can be the source of meaning and purpose, that we must be mature adults, setting goals for ourselves and judging right and wrong purely according to their own goals.
We see the fruit of the devil’s lie when people, whether they profess belief in God or not, live and act only for goals within this passing world. Every form of ‘utopianism’ comes from the devil’s big lie.
We also see the devil’s big lie in the whole realm of moral relativism: “That is fine if you think that; it is right for you, but it is not right for me; don’t you dare tell me what is right for me.” As a result, if a pregnant woman wants her baby, it is a baby, but if not it is just a clump of cells.
All of this results from the lies of the devil, but we also tell lies on our own. Sometimes we readily tell lies because we have bought into the devil’s big lies. Sometimes because we let the devil lead us into telling lies, we begin to buy into his big lies.
Among human lies the worst (and these are all too common) are the downright mean and malicious lies, told for the purpose of hurting others, or advancing oneself at the expense of others. These lies enter into the circles of gossip and spread like a poison in the human community and in the Church community. They are amplified today by means of the Internet and the various social media. Sometimes they are wholesale fabrications, but at other times they involve a complex web of distortions and partial truths.
Then there are the ‘little’ lies that we tell to get out of trouble, to avoid trouble, or to make like more easy and convenient for ourselves; we might justify those lies by telling ourselves that we are not really hurting anyone, but nevertheless we are building are own fake world and injuring our own capacity for distinguishing the true and the false. We deceive ourselves if we think we can readily switch back and forth from telling lies to living in the truth. Further, the more we become accustomed to telling the little lies, the more vulnerable we become to the big lies.
Then there is the more controversial topic of seemingly ‘good’ lies, like lying to save a life. I don’t want to get into all the ins and outs of this difficult subject, but we should keep in mind that our ability to know (which is also the root of our ability to choose) and to express our knowledge in speech is what uniquely distinguishes us as human beings. So the person who lies to save a life, saves the bodily life of another person, but the lie he tells impacts the interior life of his mind and it would be hard to call it a good impact. Has he truly become a better person inside for telling the ‘good’ lie? Has he helped the person he saved to become a better person? Does this ‘good’ lie perhaps put a priority on the passing goods of the visible world in place of the incomparable good of eternal glory?
In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable because repentance is impossible; strictly speaking that can only refer to the final refusal to repent and accept God’s mercy and forgiveness, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. Final impenitence is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, but the more a person bites into the lies of the devil, the more a person becomes a liar himself, the more a person leads a false life, the harder it will be for that person to attain the sincerity needed for true repentance. For that reason, lying could be the quickest path to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. By means of a lie a person effectively tells God, “I don’t want to live in the real world that you created, but in the fake world of my own lie.”
Nevertheless, Jesus Christ is the stronger one who has come and broken the power of the devil, plundered his possessions, and exposed all of his lies.
Today’s 2nd reading tells us the truth about the goal of human life, revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which exposes the falsity of the devil’s big lies: The one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence … this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.
All this hope is embodied already in today’s 1st reading. Note well that God lays bare the sin of Adam and Eve, but he does not put a curse on humanity; rather he curses the devil and in his words to the devil he foretells the devils destruction and mankind’s redemption. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.
The Virgin Mary is the woman, conceived without sin, who is at perpetual enmity with the serpent. Her offspring is first of all Jesus Christ, the very Son of God made man. In the second place the offspring of the woman are those those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness of Jesus. (Rev 12:17) In today’s Gospel, Jesus does not reject his Mother, who most perfectly fulfilled the will of God, but points her out in her greater role as the mother of all his brothers and sisters. As the first Eve led Adam to disobey God, Mary, who is given to us as the new Eve, would lead all of us, her children, to obey the truth, to obey God. If we entrust ourselves to her, she will free us from the kingdom of Satan, the kingdom of lies, and lead us into the kingdom of truth, the kingdom of her Son, Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life.