The scriptures for today all have a particular darkness about them, a raw honesty about what it means to be human that causes one to tremble, but then to exalt in the gift, the grace we are privileged to share in the Lord Jesus Christ. Spirituality is not, merely the resolution of our problems in a way that pleases us, but the light God in Christ casts over the darkness as we move towards him through everything raw and real in human existence that cannot be so easily explained.
Our first scripture today is taken from the beginning of the Bible- from the Book of Genesis- and it describes a catastrophe.
The catastrophe is the first time human beings defied God’s will and purposes and in doing so brought great suffering upon themselves and all the generations that would follow. The Church describes this as the “original sin”. The great Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton once remarked that of all the doctrines of the Church it is only original sin for which the Church has empirical evidence.
Original sin inaugurates an inclination in all of us to believe that we know better than God what is right and wrong and that we can defy God’s will without consequences to ourselves or others. It is the soul crushing illusion that we can choose evil over good because it is useful and somehow through our own will or power transform evil into good. Our innate capacity to resist God is passed on generation to generation- it is that insidious, and neither innocence or vigilance can protect us from its effects.
The result of this original sin is described in today’s scripture from the Book of Genesis- turning against God we turn against one another, indeed against creation itself, and a world that was a paradise becomes hell on earth. The sufferings of the world, of being human, are increased exponentially as a result of original sin and we cannot lift the crushing burden of that suffering by our own efforts. What is needed is not a self-help program, but a revelation.
In other words, we can no more escape or evade the consequences of original sin than we can escape or evade our own bodies. It goes that deep within us. This is the meaning of the scripture you heard from the Book of Genesis, not just to identify a catastrophe that happened before recorded history, but to identify a catastrophe that resides in all of us- right now. The defiance of God, the accusations, the divisions, the curse, and the exile described in our first scripture are not just a matter of the past, but of the condition of all humanity.
Thus, the lament of St. Paul in Chapter 7 of his Letter to the Romans “who can save us from these bodies of death”?
His answer is not, ourselves, for that is in fact what got us into this predicament in the first place. Instead, the answer is God, who in Christ overcomes the curse of original sin with the blessing of his grace. Uniting our compromised human nature with his divine nature, God in Christ gives us the revelation that can deliver us from catastrophe of original sin. He is the answer to St. Paul’s question.
St. Paul expresses gratitude for this gift in the Church’s second scripture- from the New Testament- his Letter to the Corinthians. In this scripture, the Apostle Paul not only sees Christ as the revelation that saves from the original sin, offering us a way through and beyond it, but also as a revelation that saves us from death.
The world is not only compromised by sin, but also by death. All things pass away and we pass along with it. The strength and vigor of youth gives way to the weakness and decline of old age. The world offers us much, but in the end, what it offers is consumed by death. The best we can do is to preserve what this world offers, prolong our experience of life, but in the end, we must yield- despite all our efforts, in the words of St. Paul; “our outer self is wasting away”.
God in Christ reveals to us a possibility beyond death. This is the meaning of his resurrection and the purpose of his own suffering and death. This is the reason that St. Paul has the audacity to identify our decline and death as a “momentary light affliction”. He says this because of his faith that God in Christ has accomplished something in his death on the cross and in his resurrection from the dead which is to our benefit. God, who is Christ, accepted a human nature, and in doing so, accepted suffering, has also in accepting death, transformed what appears to be an end, into a new kind of beginning.
In this world, death will afflict us, but that affliction is not our end, because God in Christ has revealed his power as being greater than death. The solution to the problem of death is not some power within ourselves, some kind of innovation, that simply prolongs life and insulates us from what is inevitable, but in the power of God in Christ.
God in Christ is greater than our sin and he is greater than our death. This is why St. Paul acclaims in chapter seven of his letter to the Romans; “thanks be to God for Jesus Christ our Lord”.
Sin and death afflict us, but God in Christ reveals that he gives us greater possibilities than both. And there is one more affliction into which God in Christ casts his light- the devil.
In his Gospel for today, an excerpt from the testimony of Mark, Christ is accused of being the devil himself or at the very least in league with her.
Christ will have none of this and he testifies that the words of his accusers betray not only their ignorance, but also their malice. In many cases those who accuse others of being in the thrall of the evil one are themselves her pawns.
But more than this, Christ announces that the days of the kingdom of Satan are nearing their end. One stronger than the devil and his minions has come into the world, and he has come to take back what the devil has stolen.
That which the devil has stolen are our hearts and our minds and through both the devil acts to usurp God’s purposes for his creatures and his creation. His purpose is that we flourish in this world and enjoy his company in the world to come, and Satan will have none of this. In his hatred of God in Christ he seeks to deprive him of that which he loves- us. God in Christ signals that Satan’s plotting and planning is futile and he will run around and render useless every one of the devil’s schemes and deliver us from his traps.
God in Christ, who is more powerful than our sin and of our death, is also more powerful than the devil.
The Church teaches and insists that we believe that the devil is not just a myth or a metaphor, but a malign entity of great spiritual power that negatively impacts our lives and this world. His plotting and planning is something with which we all must contend. But at the same time, there is no equivalence between God in Christ and the devil. Thus, her power is limited. The devil is cunning enough to know that directly assaulting God is futile, and so he strikes at what God loves- us, but God in Christ that he is on our side and just as he will not abandon us to the power of sin or death, he will not let the devil have his day. This is why the Church describes the devils overtures to us as “pomps” (or illusions) and his promises as “empty”. The only power over us he has is the power that we give to him, but even this God in Christ will seize away.
As I noted in the beginning, there is a darkness that casts shadows over the scriptures for today- shadows of sin, death and the devil. But the revelation of God in Christ insists that greater than those shadows is the light he casts into our darkness… We Christians must learn to see not only shadows, but Christ’s divine light!