06 August 2011

Sermon on the dumb demoniac, the crowd and the Pharisees

Hall-of-famer Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” That saying makes us smile because, while it seems to make sense, it really doesn’t. A fork in the road is an either/or, not a both/and. You go one way, or the other. You can’t go both ways.
Today’s gospel shows us that the same is true in our encounter with Christ. The Lord heals a dumb man, casting out a demon. The crowd responds with praise, saying “This has never been done in Israel.” And that was true! Every kind of miracle the Lord did in his earthly ministry had been done already in the Old Testament: lepers cleansed, sick people healed, dead people raised—even feeding many with a little food. Only one kind of miracle was new. And that was the casting out of demons.
Why does the Lord repeat the same kind of miracles that happen in the Old Testament? It was to show that he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the one who, in himself, brought together all those things that had been done piecemeal before him. But why, then, does he cast out demons? In this way he shows his greatness, and the purpose of his coming. As St. John writes, “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.”
The crowd praises Christ. But the Pharisees harden their hearts and say, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” They could not deny what he had done, and so they serve as unwilling witnesses of Christ’s power. Admitting the work, they still reject Christ—in the only way left to them. They attribute his power itself to the devil. But that’s irrational…it’s madness. Why would Satan fight against himself? They showed that same irrationality later, when the Lord rose from the dead and they told the guards to say that while the guards slept, the disciples stole the body. But such is the fate of all those who reject the love of God in Christ. Such “wisdom” becomes folly.
The crowd praises Christ; the Pharisees reject him. But nobody stays the way they were before. That’s because every time we encounter Christ, it is a fork in the road, a moment of crisis, a time of decision.
Where do we encounter him? We encounter him here in this time, when his word is proclaimed, his promise given, his body and blood offered to the faithful. Our hearts are changed, for good or for ill: for good, when we embrace him in repentance and draw near in love; for ill, when we put off repentance or draw near outwardly while hardening our hearts inwardly.
We encounter him, too, in dealing with others and especially the least of his brothers and sisters, day after day. When we see someone in need and turn away, it hardens us ever so slightly. When we open ourselves to serve them, and to receive them, we open ourselves to him.
Let us learn to see our lives for what they are. Our life doesn’t consist in the “stuff” we accumulate, in the things we have; for in the end, all that will be given to someone else. All those things are but the wax in the candle. But the candle’s life consists in its burning; and our life consists in the decisions we make, moment by moment—to receive the forgiveness and life Christ extends to us, or to turn from him to our own way, seeking pleasure and power.
Let us then beware, lest we think “Tomorrow I will repent, tomorrow I will believe, tomorrow I will follow Christ.” For that “tomorrow” doesn’t exist, and we may wake up to find ourselves far from him. This is the time of crisis, the fulcrum of our life, the fork in our road. So let us say “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. We will seek him, we will serve him, we will praise him right now, in the only time and place and people he gives us.”

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