20 January 2011

No demonic witnesses

3rd Week OT (R)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatula

We never really want to say that Jesus behaved strangely while he preached and taught, but doesn't it seem odd that he would go around publicly performing healing miracles and at the same time order the unclean spirits who recognize him as the Son of God to be silent about his identity? I mean, if Jesus didn't want his sonship widely known, why cure diseases, expel demons, and claim to have the Father's authority to forgive sins? Mark reports that the crowds were so large and so eager to touch him that he had a hop on a boat in order to avoid being crushed! His message was getting out, so why silence the unclean spirits? Maybe we didn't want to risk being discredited by his religious enemies. They could accuse him of being an agent of the Devil if unclean spirits started witnessing to his identity. Maybe he didn't want his enemies to know too much about him before the proper time. There are a lot of maybe's. But one thing is clear: the demons know him as the Son of God. And though they know who and what he is, they do not believe in him; they do not share in nor benefit from the faith, hope, and charity of those whose eyes and ears are opened upon seeing Jesus and hearing his Word. Demons are not atheists. They believe in God's existence; however, unlike those who are healed by his touch come to trust in him, resting assured in his promises and loving as he loves them, demons do not trust, love, or live in hope. Therefore, there's a difference between knowing who the Son of God is and living in faith with him.

Jesus' public ministry of healing and preaching is something more than just an introduction to his identity. The author of the Letter of the Hebrews writes, “. . .[Christ] has obtained so much more excellent a ministry as he is mediator of a better covenant, enacted on better promises.” The author here says that Christ's ministry is “more excellent.” More excellent than what? In context, he is referring to the ministry of the High Priest of the Jewish temple; he is comparing the priestly work in the temple with Christ's priestly work in heaven. Christ's priesthood is more excellent b/c his work is one and done, b/c Christ himself is both the sacrificial victim and the sacrificing priest. The covenant established by the cross and resurrection are “better” than the covenant with Moses b/c who Christ is and what he does is the fulfillment, the perfection of God's covenant with Moses. Where before the coming of the Messiah God's people received forgiveness in an earthly copy of the heavenly sanctuary, now we receive His mercy in a living sanctuary, the body and blood of the risen Christ—a better covenant, a more perfect promise of eternal life.

In the same way that Christ's covenant is a perfection of God's covenant with Moses, our faith in Christ is the perfection of simply knowing who he is. In other words, if merely knowing who Jesus is is a good thing, trusting in him is all the better. Even the unclean spirits know who he is; they know that Jesus is the Son of God. But they do not and cannot trust, hope, love. We can. Living in the hope that Christ reveals and loving as we are loved—these are what distinguish us from the unclean spirits. Perhaps Jesus silences the demons b/c he wants God's people to do more than simply come to know who he is. He wants us to trust him, to rest assured in his promises, to love. This cannot be the testimony of an unclean spirit. Only those with eyes and ears opened by his merciful Word can speak truthfully in faith.

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  1. I find it interesting that you say the unclean spirits may not trust or have faith in Jesus but they do obey his commands and seemingly accept his authority.

    "And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw him, would fall down before him and shout, 'You are the Son of God!'"

    So do the unclean spirits accept Jesus as Lord, if they submit to his orders? Is this something they do reluctantly, because they certainly don't seem to be able to bear to stay in his presence for long - presumably they do notlike to be in the presence of such purity of spirit.

  2. Fragrance, unclean spirits obey the Lord b/c they are creatures subject to their Creator. They cannot disobey b/c they do not have free will--being fallen angels and all.

    So, demons obey but they do not love.

  3. Where do the evil spirits come from? I have read that they are the spirits of the offspring of the Nephilim, who were drowned in the Flood. Spirits that wander the earthlooking for a body to possess. Presumably different from "fallen angels"?