ONE WAY OR THE OTHER
“He that is not with me is against me.” (Lk 11:23) [All Saints, Prescott, AZ, Lent 3, 15 March 2020]
In today’s Gospel Jesus expelled a demon from a mute person, and some people witnessing this miracle were amazed. Other people, however, challenged Jesus by putting Him in league with Satan, while a third group put Christ to the test by demanding a sign from heaven. All three groups missed the point of the miracle, and they missed the warning that, when Satan returns, he will do so with a vengeance. In fact, his next visit will be worse than the first. They also missed the point that Christ does not have to validate His divinity by working miracles, because miracles are not the essence of His mission.
By healing a possessed man Jesus shows Himself to be generous, compassionate and full of power over Satan. The people wanting a special sign from Him are not true believers, because they hope to satisfy their need for sensation, to lay a trap for Christ … and to ask for a demonstration of His power hoping to fulfil their desire for drama. They want excitement, and when that feeling has subsided, they drift away into a shell that pleases only themselves…a shell that does not require answering tough questions… but becomes a safe-haven without having to choose between God and Satan.
Choosing not to be on the side of God is a dangerous thing. Not choosing means hoping God will help us when we are in need, but living without Him when life is treating us well. In fact, as long as life is going well, we might even object to God looking over our shoulder… and as this feeling of superiority grows within us, we lock Him out more and more. With full confidence in our own powers, we might say: “Belief in Jesus is good for someone else … but I am OK, because I feel great, and I manage just fine.”
Of course, when things turn against us, we want His assistance immediately. We presume --- demand even --- that He help us… just because we ask Him. We flip back and forth between our need for God’s protection and our arrogance, depending on how life has treated us recently and what we choose to believe at the moment.
Some might even say: I am a very spiritual person. I’m not Christ’s enemy, but I want to be neutral when it comes to the demands of Christianity, and if I had to choose between including God in my life and not including Him… I just might take the lesser option without all those requirements and restrictions. Unfortunately, these and similar statements show that it is always about ME… how I feel, or what I need, or what I want from a relationship with God… It is never about God, never about my obligations to Him, and never about His majesty and power.
We cannot straddle the fence… we either profess faith in Jesus, or we deny Him. If we live a life of non-commitment, we miss the point of Christ discussing a sharp divide between the powers of Satan and the powers of God! We miss the warning that Satan can and will come back to a soul that is unprepared to resist temptation… and we will miss Christ’s reprimand in today’s Gospel: “He that is not with me is against me.” (Lk 11: 23)
With this one sentence, Jesus tells us that we must make a choice! There is no middle ground in the fight between God and Satan. There is no half-baked commitment that will satisfy Him. Compromise between Christ and the world’s temptations always results in failure. Partial commitment is no commitment… and halfhearted fear of the Lord, or His judgment, or eternal damnation is no fear at all.
Many people may think they can either remain neutral, or be on the side of God by obeying the minimum set of rules, morals, rights and wrongs. Some may even believe that they are safe from God’s judgment because they have created the false notion that being neutral is totally acceptable to Him. Some people think they are safe from having to decide right now, and they hope that their behavior will not come under the light of divine justice.
Unfortunately, they are wrong!
To be judged and found worthy, every soul needs to be swept clean and be washed with the Blood of Christ, and it needs to have the Holy Spirit residing within. Only then will it be free to experience the full majesty and grace and generosity of God.
Commitment is an attributes of a saved heart that decides in favor of Christ daily and obeys His commandments in faith and with gratitude.
Embedded in today’s morality, however, is the perception that by being just good enough, we can gain a right standing with God. Some people’s outlook seems to be that if they do not win salvation outright, at least they have tried… and they firmly believe that God will understand their circumstances. We all know that we are not perfect, they say, and God will be merciful, they say. God must have a good sense of humor, they say, because, otherwise, we would all be lost.
No one except Christ is perfect, and salvation and judgment are not humorous issues. Without a firm commitment to God, all our hopes for a beneficial judgment may be in vain. God insists on a firm commitment to Jesus from us, not just a pleasantry, or the half-hearted promise of a future decision. In the Book of Revelation, St. John hears the Alpha and Omega say: “… because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:16)
These are difficult words to hear, and many people do not want to accept them. They do not want to be told that swaying back and forth is not good enough. They want their freedom of choice. They want to hold life in their own hands… and they do not want to be bound by a commitment to Him.
Regrettably, a person can make his way to spiritual death by feeling very good about themselves.
According to today’s Gospel, this kind of outlook means nothing to an Evil Spirit. Our eternal enemy is just fine with a person having a wonderful life without God.
In fact, the Evil Spirit would rather possess a moral host than a pagan one, because the Devil delights in corrupting and destroying a moral soul. The moral, uncommitted person has convinced himself that God’s grace is accessible at any time of his choosing… and any demon would be perfectly fine with that falsehood. Demons don’t really care what we think… as long as, in the end, we lose sight of God. Satan wants to show us that we can believe in whatever we want… and as long as it is wrong, the demon in us will be satisfied. From Satan’s perspective, a person who thinks everything is all right without God becomes his best host.
There is a story in which people put off their decision to believe in God and then play the odds to repent in the last moments of their life. They may even tempt God by pointing to the thief who was crucified with Jesus and use him as an example to demand equal treatment. But, the saying goes that: “One thief on the cross was saved, so that no one should despair; but only one, so that no one should presume.” Hoping to have faith at the last moment is not a good insurance policy to gain eternal life, and postponing a commitment to God is never a wise gamble.
We either stand with Jesus or we are against Him. "Middle-of-the-road" Christianity will not succeed on the Day of Judgment. We will have to give an answer for our life that is based on faith and commitment… on having made a decision to bear the cross with Christ… or having selected the short-lived pleasures of this world. Fortunately, our eternity with God depends on His grace. When we are judged His mercy will allow us to be forgiven, because we would never qualify to enter eternal life without it. In the end, it is His judgment that counts, not our presumption of what it should be. Rather than presuming His judgment, we should look at our commitment more closely, especially now… in this season of Lent… when we remember Christ’s sacrifice more intensely. On this third Sunday in Lent, let us have the courage to look within ourselves and clean out anything that should not be there. Let us give up the idea that we can be neutral when it comes to believing in Christ… and let us understand that we are either for Him, or against Him.
On a prayer card especially designed for the Lenten Season, I found these guidelines that might help us deepen our commitment to God.
In the quiet of our own room and in the house of God, let us think about our life and its duties; that we may understand the lessons that the Cross of Christ teaches us about sin… and holiness… and forgiveness.
Let us find out what our sinful habits are, our failings, temptations, dangers; let us determine our actual spiritual condition, that we may strengthen the good, and conquer the evil.
Let us offer God intense, earnest prayer – both public and private – expressing our deepest desire for a closer relationship with Him.
Let us fight against sin because it dishonors and offends God, violates His laws and pollutes our soul – let us develop a genuine hatred of that which drives God from us.
Attend as many church services as possible. Give special importance to every opportunity offered to partake of Holy Communion.
Serve others for charity’s sake, and use your influence to bring others into the fold of Christ.
Relieve distress; advance the interests of the Church; create an Easter Offering worthy of your devotion… and full of gratitude for the gifts received.1
These guidelines try to make a point: God cannot and will not be ignored. He is not our servant, but we are His! He does not have to prove Himself to us, but we need Him in all phases of our lives, and we rely on His grace and mercy at Judgment time. Before then, and by His grace, we have a lot of work to do. From Meditation to Alms Giving, we are in His debt, and we need to decide if we are for Him or against Him. True faith in Christ is exciting, but it is not a sensation that will vanish when the feel-good sentimental rush dies away. God does not have to prove His love for us, because He has already done so by the Creation of the Universe and the Sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
In this season of Lent, let us recognize the true mission of Christ… our salvation… and let us decide to be on His side during this earthly life so that we may see Him in all His glory in the next.
(1 Church of the Epiphany, prayer card for the Lenten Season 2016, paraphrased)