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Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Last Sunday, two people had been to visit the presbytery, and after they had gone I

sat down to eat. I was about half-way through one mouthful when the door went

again, and they were back. “Come and have a look at this!” one of them said. So I

went outside, and just on the floor by the gate was a dead snake. Something had

bitten off its head. I was rather surprised. I don’t remember ever seeing a snake in

this country before. I later on looked up the types of snake found in the UK, and in

fact there are three, two of which are harmless, and a third which can bite human

beings but isn’t too serious to middle-aged men, unless they are very ill. I think the

type I found outside the presbytery is one of the harmless ones.


In the first reading there is a reference to a serpent, which represents the evil one:


“I will make you enemies of each other:

you and the woman,

your offspring and her offspring.

It will crush your head

and you will strike its heal.”


In other words, from now on there will be battle between the evil one and humanity.

For this we need to be prepared. The Gospel shows us different ways in which the

evil one can be at work.


First, the relatives of Jesus think they know all about Him, because He’s part of their

family, and so when He starts drawing all these people to Himself, they think He’s

out of His mind. “Who does He think He is?” they might have thought. Clearly

they don’t really know Jesus, but they think they do. Trap number one: creating

God in our own image and likeness, expecting Him to always do things the way we

would do them.


Next, the scribes accuse Him of being in league with the devil. He must be. He

doesn’t fit our expectations of what someone from God would do, so He must be

working for the devil, and what’s more, the devil is working all these signs through

Him to deceive everyone. See trap number one above. Also trap number two:

always thinking you are right and everyone else therefore just has to be wrong.


Now we come to the mysterious sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Surely all

sins can be forgiven? But here we have Our Lord telling us that this sin, an “eternal

sin” can never be forgiven. If it’s that dangerous, then we need to know what it is.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1864, gives us the short answer. For

the longer answer, see Pope St John Paul’s document Dominum et Vivificantem, para

46. To summarise what the catechism says, the Holy Spirit brings us the forgiveness

of sins, but we can shut that off by not being sorry. If we die unrepentant, i.e. having

committed sin but saying we are not sorry for it, then it won’t be forgiven and we

will arrive before the Lord with that sin on our souls to face judgement. And if the

sin is serious, we will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, but it

will be the devil, not Christ, who will say those words to us. That’s trap number

three.


Lastly: “Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and

mother”. God is even more important than family. Let me qualify that. I’m not

saying that you can get out of all household jobs and speaking to your family by

saying prayers for hours on end. Rather, what I mean is that when there is a conflict,

it’s God that we follow. So what do you do, then, if you are a child and one of your

parents tells you to steal something from a shop? Do you “honour father and

mother” and steal the item, or do you obey God who said “Thou shalt not steal”?

You can actually honour both. You honour God and also bring honour to your

parents by not becoming a thief. Or another example: I know someone who had a

sense that he was being called to the priesthood, but his mother was opposed. In a

perhaps unusual example of teenage rebellion, he told her it was his life, and he went

off to Poland. He’s now a priest. And as far as I know, his mother came to his

ordination. Trap number four: following the people around you and ignoring God.


I’ve pointed out these traps not to scare you, but so you can avoid them. After all, St

Paul says in the second reading that “visible things last only for a time, and the

invisible things are eternal”. This life lasts for a short while, whilst the next is for

ever. So let’s go over things again: we are involved in a spiritual battle between

good and evil, with God and Our Lady on the one side, and the devil on the other.

Four of the traps we can spot from today’s Gospel are:


1) creating God in our own image and likeness, expecting Him to always do things

the way we would do them;

2) always thinking we are right and everyone else therefore just has to be wrong;

3) for whatever reason, not being sorry for our sins, with the result that when we die

we realise we haven’t been forgiven; and

4) following the people around us and ignoring God.


Now that we know those pitfalls, the task is, with God’s help, to avoid them.

 

Curious about exploring things further?  If you would like to ask further questions about the topics raised in these homilies (or maybe think it wasn’t explained too well!), please feel free to e-mail Fr Michael at stjoseph.thame@rcaob.org.uk

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