You have to be at least my age - maybe just a bit younger, to remember the Flip Wilson show that was on television from 1970-1974: over 50 years ago!!
We thought then it got a little racy at times - nothing like you can see on tv today - so I am sure my parents really didn’t approve of me watching it - which made it all the more appealing.
In some of its skits, it featured appearances by “Geraldine Jones” - actually Flip Wilson in a wig and dress.
Geraldine was always in trouble and did many things she wasn’t supposed to do. But she always had an answer for her misdeeds:
She would put her hand on her hip and shake a finger and say: “The devil made me do it.”
She bought three new dresses in one week: The devil made me do it.
She gossipped about her friends: The devil made me do it.
She ran her car into the side of the Church: The devil made me do it. //////
The devil made Geraldine do a lot of things - and the devil was making Peter tempt Jesus with an easy way out – rather than facing the cross. . .
Jesus knew a lot about the devil and temptations – he faced the devil down and his empty promises right after his Baptism and before he began his publicly ministry.
I like the phrase St. Luke adds to the end of Jesus’ desert experience. Luke says: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from Jesus until another time.”
This is one of those other times - when Peter tries to get him to abandon the way of the cross and look for an easier out. . .
St. Matthew, himself, knew a lot about the devil and temptations. In the Gospel he writes, he mentions Satan or the devil 27 times.
And the Church knows a lot about the power of the devil and the temptations that can come our way. There are three questions during the rite of Baptism a priest or deacon asks the parents and godparents to answer on behalf of the child being Baptized:
Do you reject Satan? And all his works? And all his empty promises? To which the answer is: I do.
Jesus, St. Matthew, and the Church – all know a lot about the devil and the temptations that come from him — but do we??
Perhaps we think it is a bit old fashioned to believe in this negative force unleashed upon the earth by this fallen angel of heaven. But unless we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation – then we have no power over them.
Jesus identified satan in various ways. He called him the Prince of this world - because Satan uses material things to distract us from God. We can be tempted to adore the material, the sensual, and the powerful – rather than to adore God. The devil lures us into a false security of thinking we can build our own little kingdom here and now without any need of God.
Jesus refers to Satan as the Father of Lies: because he perverts the truth, as he did with Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. He fills our minds with doubts. He provides rationalizations why something is right — even though we know through Jesus and the teaching of the Church they are wrong.
Jesus calls the devil the Prince of Darkness - one who lurks about and is crafty. He fills us with pessimistic and hateful thoughts. He shows us all the hurts, frustrations and troubles of this world and our own lives hoping to lead us to despair by sucking out all the joy from us and our lives.
And finally, Jesus calls satan the murderer - who seeks to kill the grace of God in our soul – that help which God gives us to live our lives with integrity and peace: in imitation of Jesus.
Unless we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation - then we have no power over them. And we will see no need to heed the advice of St. Paul in our second reading from the Romans –
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Unless we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation - then we have no power over them – and will see no need to echo Jesus words in our daily lives: “Get behind me, satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
But if we are willing to admit the existence of the devil and the possibility of temptation – then we will surely know the need we have for the Eucharist –
when sinners gather to be refreshed and renewed by the very body and blood of Christ to be transformed more and more into his image and likeness.
Because what difference does it make if the bread and wine on the altar are changed into the body and blood of Christ – if those who gather at the altar remain the same?
This time we have together, gathering with like-minded individuals – is our time to recharge our spiritual batteries – so that we can do out best to fight the devil and all his empty promises throughout the week — and hopefully by doing that: we make the kingdom of God more present in us and in our world.
Most of you know I was a Benedictine for the first years of my priesthood. And St. Benedict has in his Rule for Monks a chapter that I think is appropriate for us today. I have changed some nouns and pronouns to make it fit our parish situation.
It’s Chapter 72 of the Rule: The Good Zeal of Monks – changed to the Good Zeal of Christians. St. Benedict writes:
Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell – so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life.
This, then, is the good zeal which Christians must foster with fervent love:
They should each try to be the first to show their respect to one another, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in compassion for one another.
No one is to pursue what they judge better for themselves, but instead, what they judge better for someone else.
To their fellow Christians they show the pure love of brothers and sisters, to God - loving fear. And to their pastoral leaders unfeigned and humble love.
Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.
Or as Jesus would simply say: Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Moments in time...