God Shows Us the Way to Life

The Eucharist Strengthens Us to Live the Life of Love

“We Are One Body…”

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity: Reflecting on God’s Love for Us

Opening Our Hearts to Receive the Holy Spirit

Living in the Communion of Divine Love

Msgr. Joseph Prior

“Jesus saves,” the billboard reads. I was driving on a rural road in Virginia when I noticed the sign. The words were in white letters on a black background. That was it. That was the message. Simple and to the point. Obvious to believers, perhaps curious to the unknowing, offensive to some. The simple saying invites us to consider God’s love for us from the perspective of salvation; saving us.

The first reading recalls the story of God’s encounter with Adam and Eve in the garden after they have sinned. God had created them and gave them everything they needed for life. He gave them the world and all that is in it to provide for them and to enjoy its beauty. He even gave them each other so that they would not be alone but could share life together. He gave them only one command, not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden.

As we recall the story, Satan tempted them to eat of that tree luring them with false promises. They give in and eat. Now God calls them to task. We see the immediate effects of sin. First before he even sees God, Adam is hiding. Fear, shame, perhaps even cowardice have now entered Adam’s life. These cause a distance – a separation from God and even within himself. Normally Adam would have found joy in the Lord’s presence; now he does not even want to face Him. Sadly, the sin multiplies itself as he tries to shirk his responsibility by blaming Eve, to paraphrase his words: “She made me do it.” When God asks Eve why she did it, she too tries an excuse saying the devil “tricked” her. The devil had his way but if you remember the story, he did not force Eve to eat; nor did Eve force Adam. They made a choice, the wrong choice. In a sense, they are now bound by Satan and his crippling influence.

In the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy, a crowd has gathered upon Jesus’ return home. You may recall that at this point in the gospel, Jesus has been going around Galilee healing many sick people. He has exorcised many demons, He has cured the leper, and He has forgiven sins. All these bear witness to his first words in the public ministry: “Behold the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel.” Yet this crowd refuses to believe. The only solution they can come up with to explain his power, is that He is collusion with the devil.

He answers them saying: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him.”

Jesus then offers a statement that might seem puzzling at first hearing: “But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder the house.” Who is Jesus alluding to as the “strong man” and what is his property?

One commentator sees the answer in light of Isaiah 49:24-25 which reads: “Can plunder be taken from a warrior, or captives rescued from a tyrant? Thus says the Lord: Yes, captives can be taken from a warrior, and plunder rescued from a tyrant; Those who oppose you I will oppose, and your sons I will save.”

Satan is the strong man but Jesus is stronger than him. Satan seeks to bind up and hold captive any and all of humanity. God provides the remedy; He sends Jesus to rescue mankind. Thus, Jesus is reiterating that He is not an instrument of Satan but His enemy.

Jesus then speaks of mercy. All sins will be forgiven. Jesus has the power to forgive and will forgive. The only sin that will not be forgiven is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Many ponder this statement of Jesus. What is that sin? The context here is important. Jesus is being accused by the crowd of being in league with Satan. They have refused to believe in Him even though they have seen all the incredible deeds He has done. They close their minds to Him and cut Him off. They will not believe that the Kingdom of God is here. It seems that this stubborn refusal, this obstinacy, this stubbornness of heart, is the sin against the Holy Spirit. God’s work is being done but this crowd would rather stay in darkness than to recognize the light. God’s mercy is available through Jesus, but they refuse to recognize and block themselves from receiving that mercy.

Perhaps this helps understand the final section of the passage with its references to Jesus’ family members. Jesus says: “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus represents the “will of God.” Anyone who accepts Jesus does the Father’s will. They are bound together by Him in such a strong relationship of love that it is family. Satan cannot provide this, in fact, Satan would want rather to destroy these relationships than to build them. Jesus comes to heal and establish. He heals the wounds of sin and establishes the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom where God is king, not Satan. A Kingdom of love and peace. A Kingdom of brothers and sisters.

Today we are reminded that “Jesus saves.” He saves us from the power of Satan, he saves us from our sins, he saves us from death. He is the Savior of the World and our Savior. Gathering to worship, we give thanks to God for the gift of His Son and the salvation he won for us in and through Christ Jesus; and we remember that neither Satan nor sin have any real power over us when we turn to the Lord for with Him “there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.”

***

Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

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