|Posted on June 10, 2018 at 5:30 AM|
May my words be in the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
As a child I often used to spend holidays and weekends with my grandparents or aunt and uncle on their farms in Newmarket in North Cork. One summer, when I was about eight or nine, I was staying with my aunt and uncle; it was glorious sunny weather, much like that we have had so much of recently. As I was walking past the door of the farmhouse I heard a fierce rattling coming from it. I knew at once what was happening; the door, an old plank one, covered with many layers of brown emulsion paint, had one of those old-fashioned drop latches … and all during the holiday I had noticed it was sticking … sometimes you could spend a minute or more struggling with it trying to get out of the house … but for some reason when it was sticking it was much easier to open it from outside.
I knew my aunt was alone in the house, so I guessed immediately that she was stuck inside trying to get out. I rushed over to help; and in a moment I had the door open. I stood there beaming as my aunt emerged red-faced from her exertions and blinking in the sudden glare of the sunlight. I waited expectantly for the big 'thank you' that I was sure I was about to receive for coming to her aid. It didn't come. Instead my aunt misread the situation completely. Seeing me standing there with a big smile on my face she jumped to the wrong conclusion:
'How dare you hold that door closed while I was trying to get out!' she shouted. And instead of a 'thank you' I got an almighty slap across the face. And off I went, roaring crying, not so much because of the slap, which children were well enough used to in those days, but because of the injustice of it all – I'd been punished for doing something nice.
It is one of the hard truths of the world that often those who are trying to do good are accused instead of doing wrong … and are sometimes even punished for it, their good deeds treated as crimes. We see this happening to our Lord today. He has been casting out unclean spirits – demons – and the scribes say that he is doing so not by the power of God but by the power of Beezebul – essentially Satan. He is doing not just good, but great good and he is accused of doing evil – that he wants to trick people into thinking he has been sent by God by pretending to cast out demons while being in league with the devil all along. And we know, of course, that his enemies will not limit themselves to accusations. In last week's Gospel we saw them being their conspiracy to bring about his destruction … and, as history records, when the chance presents itself to do so they do not hesitate and have him condemned to death and nailed to a cross to die.
The irony of accusing Christ of being a minion of Satan is, I hope, evident to all – for it was to save the world from the effects of the evil wrought by the devil when he tempted our first parents to sin and brought about the Fall that our Lord came into the world. But it is, of course, as a result of the Fall that mankind has its sad tendency to prefer its own sinful desires over the will of God. We have a good example of this in our Old Testament reading today. The people have decided that they want a king to rule over them like all the other nations. The prophet Samuel is appalled; there is only one true king who is lord over his chosen people – God himself. And he warns the people against their desires … and warns them, I hope you noted, with words sent to them by God himself. And yet they persist in asking for a king. They desire to be like all other nations – pagan nations who follow false gods, and sacrifice their children to Molech, a demon whose name in Hebrew has the same root as that for king – Melek – is too strong for them to resist.
The temptation to follow the example of other nations in their sinful ways is one that is not limited to ancient days. How often do we hear those arguing we should move away from our traditional values pointing to what goes on in other countries. It is the 'every one else is doing it, why can't we' argument … the type of logic we used as children when we wanted to do something and our mothers told us 'no' … and if your mothers were anything like mine you were probably told as well 'if everyone else jumped off a bridge would you want to do that too?'
The idea about mindlessly following the behaviour of others without considering rationally the merits of what they are doing as being like jumping off a bridge has always struck me as apt. Failing to logically think about any behaviour before engaging in it obviously can lead us into physical danger. And failing to consider the moral implications of any behaviour can lead us into spiritual danger. All the cool kids are smoking risks lung cancer and heart disease. All the cool kids are going to a house party where the parents are away and the drink will be flowing risks not only drunkenness but debauchery.
And, of course, just as the young people who not only refuse to bow to peer pressure but actually dare to name what the cool kids are doing for what it is – childish, stupid, and dangerous – are called names, excluded, and sometimes physically bullied, so too Christians face the wrath of the world when they stand up for what is right. We are called by God to name evil for what it is … and our thanks is often to be called evil ourselves. And that is painful … just as it was painful when my aunt slapped me when I was trying to help her.
My poor aunt, of course, almost at once realised her mistake and was very upset. And I got a very fulsome apology indeed … along with a large dish of ice-cream and a great many chocolate biscuits! We can not, of course, expect those who abuse and misuse for our faith to apologise – though, of course, we must pray always that they will repent and return to God – but Christians should know that the reward for their fidelity comes not in this life but the next. For we have only one king whose throne is in heaven … and those who remain faithful to him to the last will one day, with his grace, be filled with the joy of bowing before him and singing his praises into all eternity – a joy that I pray will be experienced by all here, in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … Amen.
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