Sunday, March 27, 2011

Homily for Oculi – The Third Sunday in Lent (Lent 3)


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

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The people wanted to know by what power and by what authority Jesus was able to cast demons out of men. The only possible choices that they would allow Jesus, however, were that He cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul (Satan), or that He needed to produce a sign from heaven to prove otherwise. In other words, they considered Jesus guilty unless He could prove Himself to be innocent. But, knowing their thoughts, Jesus was not going to play their little game. Instead, He responded, “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?” In other words, Jesus was saying, “If I cast out demons by the power of Beelzebul, then Satan is working against himself and his kingdom will surely fall. That doesn’t make any sense.” But then He turned the light upon their darkness and exposed their hypocrisy, for they readily accepted that their own sons could cast our demons.

Jesus’ power and authority came, not from Satan, or from any worldly power or authority, but it came from the finger of God, the Holy Spirit. This same power and authority was wielded by Aaron at God’s command and brought plagues of gnats and flies upon the whole land of Egypt that Pharaoh’s magicians could not reproduce. This same power and authority was wielded by the faithful sons of Israel at God’s command for the good of His people and the glorification of His Name. And, this same power and authority is wielded by His pastors and priests in His stead and by His command yet today in the preaching of the Gospel and in the forgiveness of sins through the divinely appointed Means of Grace. In each case the kingdom of God comes upon His people, a kingdom of power and of grace and of mercy that is for the whole world, but a kingdom that Pharaoh and too many others have chosen to reject.

Jesus compares Satan and his powers of darkness to a strongman, fully armed, guarding his palace; he feels secure and comfortable that his defense is strong and that his goods are safe. But, Jesus is stronger than he, though He appears to be weak and lowly, and He attacks Satan and overcomes him and He takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Perhaps Jesus is reflecting back upon His battle with Satan in the desert wilderness following His baptism and anointing with the Holy Spirit. There, in Satan’s third attempt to tempt Jesus to exercise His divine power according to His own will, and not the will of His Father, Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if He would bow down and worship him. Jesus’ response to Satan was “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’.” There, too, Jesus cast out Satan by the power and by the authority of the finger of God, the Holy Spirit, and He exposed Satan’s weakness and the weakness of all fallen men, Misplaced fear, love, and trust.

The strong man, Satan, put his trust in his armor. His armor, of course, is not physical armor, but it is a trust in one’s self and one’s abilities, one’s reason and understanding, one’s works over and against God and His Word. When it comes to God’s Word, Satan is always looking for a loophole or he twists God’s Word so that it appears to say something that it does not or to permit something that it does not. Jesus, in His humanity, as a man, with the Word of God, the only armor that men have, resisted Satan’s temptations and cast him out. Then later, on the cross, Jesus willingly laid down His life in death, the wage for our sin, and set us free from sin, and death, and Satan, to his great surprise, because God’s Word really said.

But, we are guilty of the same misplaced fear, love, and trust as is Satan. We do not believe in the Word of God but subject it to our fallen reason and understanding and place our trust in our own abilities and works as protecting armor. But we see in our First Parents and in the record of Holy Scripture, and even in modern centuries unto our present day, that men who put their fear, love, and trust in themselves over and against God and His Word fall prey to Satan’s temptations again and again. Indeed, even the wielding of God’s Word itself, without faith, is a misplaced trust as Eve demonstrated by adding to God’s prohibition regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is why the divine armor that St. Paul describes in his letter to the Church in Ephesus is all defensive armor. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, these are all defensive armor, given to you by God that you may stand against the schemes of Satan. God, His Word, and His gifts are what you must trust in at all times. It is only the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God that is an offensive weapon, and it is a weapon that, though wielded by men, receives its power and authority from the finger of God, the Holy Spirit.

Thus Jesus said to the people, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Here Jesus masterfully addresses two different but related issues. In the first case, He addresses the question asked of Him by the people regarding the power and authority by which He cast out demons. Having already indicated that His power and authority came by the finger of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus is further indicating that the Holy Spirit is the only power and authority by which this work is accomplished. Thus, even the faithful sons of Israel, and priests and pastors, exorcise Satan and the powers of darkness by the finger of God, the Holy Spirit. In the second case, Jesus indicates that apart from Him, apart from trust in God and His Word, there is no defense from Satan and that the works of those who put their faith and trust in themselves or in anyone or anything other than God and His Word are evil and against Jesus.

In the Old Testament lesson from Exodus, even though Pharaoh’s own magicians recognized that Aaron’s power and authority to send the plagues of gnats and flies upon the Egyptians came from the finger of God, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he would not listen to them. So also in the New Testament Gospel lesson, the people that heard Jesus would not listen to what Jesus taught them. A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” The woman’s cry was a confession of fear, love, and trust in the fallen flesh of men, not in the spiritual Word of God. Jesus’ response to her is a fitting conclusion to this pericope about where fear, love, and trust are properly placed, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!”

Though it is most certainly true that if you are not with Jesus, then you are against Him, God the Father has called you and the whole world through His Son by the power and authority of the finger of God, the Holy Spirit to be with Jesus. So, you are only at risk of not being with Jesus by placing your fear, love, and trust in anything other than God and His Word. However, having been called by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, and having been enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit now keeps you and the whole Christian Church on earth, with Jesus in the one true faith. And you can place your fear, love, and trust in God that His finger, the Holy Spirit, is present and active to defend and to keep you now by the preaching of the Gospel and by the forgiveness of sins given you though the Spirit’s Means of Grace for your life today, and tomorrow, and for eternity, to the glory of God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son, in the power of His most Holy Spirit.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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