There is an interesting scene in today’s Gospel reading and it gives us a chance to reflect on some basic Catholic teaching.
Let us begin by naming the characters: There is Jesus, the scribes and pharisees, the faithful coming to know Jesus and then there are the demonic forces being exorcised.
Now let us split the crowd into two groups, the demonic forces and the people.
Demons are fallen angels. They were once angels just like all the others we know of including the archangels of which Lucifer was one and then there the other angels who followed him. This means there are two types of angels—those who serve God and those who are led by Lucifer.
Now we have the people—we have the scribes and pharisees who are followers of the law to the letter if possible and there are the people trying to come to understand who Jesus is.
For the most part, the scribes and pharisees have made up their mind about who Jesus is because they feel he is violating the letter of the law. If he truly were the Son of God, in their mind, he would not be healing people on the sabbath among many other things. This fact is significant and we will return to it.
Then we have the people who are being freed from spiritual and physical disease and seeing Jesus as manifesting the power of God in healing them. The scribes and pharisees are not so convinced.
Now let us step back a bit and take an outside look at the scene.
One of the questions people often ask is can the Devil and even the angels repent of their rebellion and return to the good graces of God? The answer is no.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that angels are not humans and so when they make a decision they are fully aware of the consequences and they make a permanent decision. They are kind of like when I went skydiving. Once I let go of that plane at 3000 feet there was no going back. It was a permanent decision. The laws of the universe made it impossible for me to reverse that decision.
Every decision the angels make is like that. Once you let go of the plane, you have to deal with the consequences. Once the angels rebelled against God, their decision was final.
Humans are different. If you were to imagine it this way. We make our decisions slowly and the angels make them at lightning speed. So, our whole life is one of choosing for or against God every day. Each moment is a chance to choose more and more for God or if we so choose to decide to go the other way.
Finally, at the moment of our death, our decision is made and the consequences thereof are ours, there is no going back one way or the other. Of course, we Catholics believe in purgatory but that is not another chance to choose for or against God, the choice is made, it is a further purification so that we can stand in the presence of God.
Others make the choice against God and there is a further chance for them just as there is no further chance for the fallen angels. God gives us his grace at every moment of the day calling us to choose him even when there is great resistance in us to choose a more selfish path away from him. It does not matter God’s grace is always calling us to the right path. The more we are docile and open to it the more we respond as Christ calls us.
So our life is one of choosing every day what the angels do at light speed essentially once.
The devil is legalistic by the way. So that as you see those who lean further away from Jesus use the law for their foundation so too does the devil. Remember, the devil is your accuser, he is the prosecutor. The Holy Spirit is your defense attorney. God will find you guilty, but if you respond to his grace he will forgive the punishment and the whole reality is null and void. If you reject God’s grace there is no recourse because you have no standing in his court. It is like you tell the Holy Spirit that you do not want his representation and you stand with no defense to the accusations. Jesus can say nothing more than “I never knew you.” However, this is a lifetime of choices that brought you here, it is not a sudden choice.
A good example of this is the two thieves at Jesus’ crucifixion. One begs forgiveness after acknowledging his guilt and is forgiven and saved. The other rejects Jesus completely for his own interests and is lost. Neither of them got into that position by accident or overnight. Both of them made choices throughout their lives that brought them to that moment and one reversed his choices and was saved, the other did not and was lost.
The scribes and pharisees are walking down the path of rejecting Christ after a lifetime of deciding for their own selfish ways and what do they use to justify their own decisions. The letter of the law just like the devil does.
The people are turning more towards Christ and what are they responding to? The spirit of the law.
Those who are being cast out are the fallen angels for whom there is no hope.
Jesus came to save us from their legalistic manipulation that tries to draw us to their evil. When we embrace Jesus, we become free of their power. When we reject Jesus we come under their spell. It is no secret that the scribes and the pharisees and the bad thief on the cross all said exactly the same thing at the crucifixion—“If you are the son of God get yourself off that cross” It is the same type of temptation the devil gives to Jesus in the desert.
When you understand this you can understand why we do what we do. Every decision we make leads us closer to Christ or away from him. We can assume we have made decisions both ways but the sacraments help us to keep focusing on deciding for Christ. Pride will always lead us away from them and away from Christ as well.
Lent starts in three weeks and is a good time for us to focus on building on the habits that lead us to choose for Christ more and more every day.