4th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Deut. 15:18-20; 1 Cor. 7:32-35; Gospel Mark 1:21-28
Tempted by Satan and his devils?
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 28 January 2018

Today’s Gospel of St Mark is a continuation of last week’s Gospel where, when Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to be His Apostles, they immediately responded decisively, wholeheartedly and unconditionally.  In our reflection on this call of Jesus, as we look into our hearts, in humility we admit that our responses to Jesus, unlike the apostles, seem to be hesitant and changeable, and we tell Jesus, we are not ready becausewe are not perfect and not worthy enough to witness to His Good News of Salvation.  Are these reasons true or are we trying to justify and find excuses for not wanting to accept Jesus’ invitation to live the more wholesome and challenging life that He wants us to embrace? 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, in today’s Gospel, Jesus exposes His apostles to the reality of the challenges of what it is like to proclaim the Good News of Salvation to sceptics and those who refuse to believe that there is such a reality as a Loving and Compassionate God who cares for us personally; who never fails us in our needs and who offers us the gift of eternal life and happiness after we die. 

Jesus proclaimed the Good News of Salvation to the crowds with great wisdom and authority.  In order to convince them, He performed the miracle of expelling the demons from a possessed man.  The Gospel tells us that Jesus’ teachings made a deep impression on the crowd and they were all astonished at seeing the divine power of Jesus expelling the demons from the possessed man.

It seems to me that it would be good for us to reflect on the crowd’s reaction and response to all these happenings.   This is because even as the crowd were amazed by what they saw, this did not necessarily mean that they believed that Jesus was the Son of God.  Reflecting on the Gospel, I believe many of can identify with the crowd’s reaction and see ourselves being one of them.  Why is this so?  Why are our minds so fixed and our hearts so resistant and unchangeable?

My sisters and brother in Christ, in today’s Gospel, I believe one of the main reason for this happening in our lives can be attributed to the temptations and deceptions of Satan and his devils.

There is a story of a competition in hell, and all the student devils were asked to join the competition of how to convince as many people as possible to come to hell.  The three finalists were shortlisted and tested.  The first finalists said, “I will try to convince people that there is no God, and so they should enjoy their lives as much as they wish.  The second finalist said, “My strategy is to convince as many people as possible that there is no hell, so they have no worries about their sins, and they should live in whatever way they wish.  The third finalist said, “My strategy is simple; I just have to assure people that there is no hurry.  They should take their time and enjoy life in any way they wished.  Immediately, the panel of senior judges jumped up and said, “Right, that is the strategy that will surely work . . . and he won the competition.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remember that you and I are generally good people trying to be better.  Yet, the challenges of growing to become a more wholesome and holier person, is never so easy and straightforward.  And as in today’s Gospel and story, we know that even as we want to live a more wholesome and Christ-like life, we seem to fall into the trap of procrastinating and delaying the good we need to do.  And, as such, find ourselves not having grown in our faith over the past many years of our lives.

Let us reflect on some obvious examples: “How many of us want to pray daily and know that setting aside time to pray meaningfully is absolutely essential, but find ourselves not praying, and even if we do, we are falling asleep most of the time because we have left our praying time to the end of the day when we are exhausted from the day’s activities?  How many of us want to be more patient, or be a less angry spouse or employer, or want to help the Church financially instead of giving our loose change or sign up in a ministry, or would really wish to read, reflect on, and learn more about the Bible for the past many years and still never got round to it?  How many of us have wanted to explain to our children, or spouse, or friends that coming to Church and living the faith more seriously is so important to the quality of our lives and family, but have not done so, over the past many years and now feel it is too late, as our children have lapsed and no longer interested or refuses to come to church anymore? 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remember from today’s Gospel that, when Satan was defeated with his devils, they made a loud cry and threw the man they possessed into convulsion.  As such, what remains to be done is the full destruction of Satan and his devils at the Second Coming of Christ when they will be cast into the eternal fires of hell for ever. 

However, in the meantime, let us live our faith without any fear of Satan and his devils.  Let us be more fully aware of the reality of our weaknesses, and let us then beg God for the wisdom to overcome the deceptive, divisive and destructive temptations of Satan and his devils, regardless of how tempting and convincing they may be.  Let us live a more discerning life that the temptations of Satan and his devils have to be challenged head on and without any further excuses or delays. 

You and I need to say “Yes” to Jesus in how we live daily, and in all that we need to do, to renew our faith and live it with greater creative fidelity of our faith.  If we do not make a decisive, wholehearted and unconditional decision for Jesus, as the apostles did, then we can be sure that as in the past years, by the time Christmas comes around, we would still be under the attractive influence and dominance of Satan and his devils of living a lukewarm faith, and yet strangely, still trying to convince ourselves that all are well.  To do this is like a third stage cancer patient saying to himself, insofar as there are no pains, I am still okay. 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, perhaps, it might be helpful for us if we were to ask ourselves, “What would happen if we were to die tomorrow, of a sudden heart attack or of a sudden discovery of cancer, and had to face God at the gates of heaven, what do you think we have to say to God”?  One thing is for sure: we have to face the truth of ourselves and how we have lived or fail to use the abundant blessings that God had given to you and to me, during our lifetime to grow in His Love and Ways that He had Willed of us. 

And, if we should live as God Wills of us, then we can sure that our hearts and homes; our lives would experience a peace that the world and all that we possess cannot give.  For our lives have come from God and only when we live for Him and out of love for Him can we find the true peace, Joy, fulfilment and happiness that Jesus promised us in the Gospel.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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