What is happening in our gospel today?
Well, if you have ever watched a championship boxing bout on TV, you will remember the managers and trainers escorting their champion down the aisle and into the ring. The boxer has trained for this fight and is there to face his opponent in battle. This is what is happening in our gospel. In the red corner, Jesus, in the blue corner, Satan. The Holy Spirit leads, or rather drives, Jesus out into the desert, to match him against the devil. What we arehearing here is (ring bell) the bell sounding for the first round of this epic fight. It is only the first round, so we don’t have a winner straightaway. In fact, the remaining 15 chapters of Mark’s gospel are like successive rounds of a championship fight, in which Jesus squares off against Satan and, over and over again, lands solid punches on him, as he heals people, casts out demons, performs miracles – all these are blows delivered upon the person of the devil, forcing him to back away and give up more and more of the territory he had won over human beings’ bodies, hearts and lives. Hitherto, Satan had been the undisputed champion of the world, but now he has met his match, and more than met his match, in Jesus.
The final knock-out is reserved for the 15th chapter of Mark’s gospel, when Jesus dies on the cross. Satan thinks he has won at this point, but even as he is on the point of rejoicing, he realizes that what he has done has actually defeated himself, because, with Jesus’ death, so dies all the sin of every single person on the planet, past, present and future, and that sin has been what Satan has used to trap human beings in his kingdom of darkness, death and hell. The movie “The Passion of the Christ “ depicts this moment really vividly, when it shows Satan’s joy turning into dismay and horror, as he realizes what has just happened, and he cries out with a great shout of “NO!!!”. The resurrection of Jesus in the 16th, and last, chapter of Mark, is like a boxer, getting up off the floor just before the referee counts to ten, and smashing his opponent down with a great knock-out blow.
Jesus has won, the devil has lost.
And I hope, brothers and sisters, you have been rooting for the winner. Because the world today, in so many ways, subtly, and not quite so subtly, has been rooting for the wrong fighter. Over and over again, I receive news items about Satanic black masses being given permission to be held all over the place down in America, including in local town halls. (Remember the black mass held in a pub in Ottawa a couple of years ago?) I read of Satanic toys and movies and books, all presenting the devil as the real hero, and dismissing Jesus as weak and pathetic, a loser, a failure. I don’t worry about that really. I know this is simply Satan strutting his stuff, being so confident of victory over people’s minds and hearts, because they believe his lies, and have forgotten about Calvary, about the cross, and what it means, and about the resurrection of Jesus. And they have forgotten, because they no longer read the Bible which tells them the truth about these things, and, for that very reason, Satan is desperate to stop people reading the Bible. He prefers people forget about his defeat and humiliation. In the Bible, we read passages such as Colossians 2:15, which tells us that, at the cross, Jesus disarmed all the powers and principalities of evil, and publicly displayed them as his defeated opponents, triumphing over them. No wonder Satan wants to keep the Bible, especially the New Testament, out of people’s hands.
We, as believers, as disciples of Jesus, however, need to keep reading the Bible, to remind us that Jesus,our model and our champion, has defeated Satan and all his works, so we don’t believe his lies and fall under his thrall, as so many continue to do. That is why Pope Francis, in the homily I quoted from on Ash Wednesday, says, during Lent, we should switch off the television and turn to reading the Bible instead, stop connecting to the Internet and connect to the gospel instead.
Yes, Satan still has some power left, not much, but some, and continues to rampage around the world, as the Bible puts it, “like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” ((1 Peter 5:7). Why does God allow him to do this? Well, now comes the really good bit. Because Jesus wants to share with us the spoils of his victory. He is like our manager and trainer now, and he sends us out, in his name, to take Satan on ourselves. Like what happened to Jesus 2000 years ago, so now, today, the Spirit leads us out into the desert of Lent, to face off against Satan, and emulate Jesus by landing blow upon blow on the devil, as revenge for the awful defeat inflicted by Satan on our first parents at the beginning of human history, which plunged the whole human race into darkness and misery, and made us captives and slaves to him. Until Jesus, until our champion, our representative, came and defeated him, and took us back as his prize.
God is not worried about Satan, nor is Jesus, nor is the Holy Spirit. They know that the devil is a defeated enemy. Nor should we be worried. We need to remember the devil is defeated, and believe it, too. That is what Jesus means, when he says at the end of our gospel today. “Repent and believe in the good news.” Repent of believing the lie that Satan has all the power and is invincible, and we will always lose against him. We will always cave in when he tempts us, we are powerless against him. Lies, lies, all lies. Believe instead in the good news that the devil is a defeated enemy. With Jesus and the Holy Spirit living in us, as they have been since our baptism, we have all we need to knock Satan down again and punish him. We don’t have to cave in and admit defeat when he comes against us, reminding us of our past sins, especially if we have already confessed our sins to God and received his forgiveness. As the old saying has it, “the next time the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future”, because he ain’t got one!
Come into this season of Lent, then, as a fighter in their prime, trained and eager to do damage to Satan and his kingdom, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and resisting temptations to sin (Ring bell) Seconds out, round one!