For many Christians, the primary purpose of the Gospel is to impart a particular kind of ethic, that is, a way of being moral. The particular emphasis of this ethic or morality might be different, but what is held in common is that the Gospel provides a distinction between what is right and what is wrong- it is fundamentally about how to behave.
While it is true that Christ the Lord clarifies for us what God wants us to understand about right and wrong, it is not just the purpose of his revelation to tell us how to behave. As if only if we were polite and nice all our problems would be solved. We are rightly interested in ethics and morality and Christ has very clear teaching in regards to both. However, it was not for the sake of teaching us about ethics and morality that God in Christ accepted a human nature and revealed himself to us as man. Christ had a greater purpose.
The overarching purpose of Christ’s revelation is deal with a predicament that traps human beings in conditions that inevitably tend towards despair. Human beings are afflicted, and God in Christ comes to deal with our affliction.
The Gospel reveals that our afflictions originate, not just in poor ethical decisions or moral choices, (our poor ethical decisions and moral choices are symptomatic of a greater predicament). Our affliction resides in three great powers that are beyond our ability to circumvent or control. These three great powers are sin, the devil and death, and everything that afflicts us, everything that is wrong with us, has its origins in these three great powers.
Sin is, simply put, a failure to love what God loves, and in our failure to love, we make not only ourselves, but also make others miserable. In breaking a commandment or disobeying God, we are not just defying rules and regulations, but we are refusing to love, and this refusal is what makes sin so miserable for ourselves and for others.
Love is willing what is truly and really good for others, and it is our failure to do this that is inhibits our ability to flourish and often makes us cruel. The good we should will, we don’t and the evil that we shouldn’t will we do.
And worse, we don’t often know what love is because we don’t know what the really and truly good is. We think what is good are things, like wealth, pleasure, power and honors, but while these things can make our lives easier in this world, they can also make us miserable. There has to be a greater and more important good than wealth, pleasure, power and honors. God in Christ reveals what this good actually is.
Sin has power over us, and so does the devil.
The devil is fallen creature of great power, what the Church describes as an angel, that in his own resistance to God’s love, lashes out in anger and fear at anything or anyone that God loves- that means us. Because
the devil is so much smarter and stronger than us, and because, often times his deceptions seem so charming to us, we need a power stronger than him to wrest us free from his influence. The devil is not a fictional character, but a mysterious kind of creature that makes his presence known to us through insinuation and accusation. The devil is powerful, but God in Christ is even more powerful.
Then there is the power of death. We have a tendency to fear death perhaps more than anything else, and if we are not afraid of it, we are in denial of it’s reality. Our fear and denial of death creates the conditions for a lot of misery, as when we act out of our fear or denial we more often than not make the kinds of decisions that hurt others. Further, death seems to us to be the end of everything that we consider to be good and worthwhile and if death is really and truly the end of everything, then what meaning or real purpose does our existence have? Without meaning and purpose our lives drift towards despair.
The Gospel testifies to Christ’s power over sin, the devil and death. All the testimony of the Gospel stories that you read or hear proclaimed at Mass are about how Christ has or will overcome the three great powers that are the source of our afflictions.
What Christ has to say about ethics or morality is always within the context of his greater purpose, which is to deal with the three powers that are making us miserable- sin, death and the devil.
Sin, death and the devil make people upset. We don’t like to talk about them, let alone think about them, and so many preachers find a way around talking about them at all. One way to do that is over emphasize ethics and morality as if that’s all the Gospel is about. Preaching becomes a lecture about how we are to behave.
Today’s Gospel, an excerpt from the testimony of the evangelist Luke, is indicating to us that the power of God in Christ is more powerful than death. Christ restores life to a dead man. Our first scripture for today, an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings, gestures towards or foreshadows what Christ accomplishes in the Gospel, and what Christ accomplishes indicates, who he is and what he is all about is not, in the words of St. Paul in our second reading, merely of “human origin”.
Christ is God, and he reveals himself in power. This power, unlike worldly power is not wielded as we would wield power, for the sake of our own selfish purposes. Instead, Christ reveals that his power is for us, to rescue us, to save us, and to save us from that which afflicts us- the power of sin, the devil and death.
God in Christ reveals that he is more powerful than death and it is our faith that as he enters into death itself on the cross, he transforms it forever. What seems to us to be an end, is actually a new kind of beginning. What seems to us to be an end, is actually a route of access to God. Christ’s power has made this possible- a power, his power, that is greater than death.
Sin- a failure to love. The Devil- a dark power that hates everything God loves. Death- the fear and denial of which robs our lives of meaning and purpose.
These powers remain very real in all of our lives, as do the afflictions that they create.
Yes, sin, the devil and death are very real and very powerful. But not more powerful than Christ!
And Christ has the power to defeat them.
This revelation is what the Gospel is about.