Homily for Tuesday of the 1st Wk in Ordinary Time, 11 Jan 2022, Mk 1:21-28

I know that in this modern day and age there are many educated people who no longer believe in demons and the idea of “spirit posession”. They would frown at you and say to themselves, “Where is this man coming from? How can he claim to be educated and be so jurassic in his religious worldview?”

I feel this especially when I preside at the rite of Baptism and ask people to join in renewing their baptismal promises. The first question sounds primitive to the educated ear, “Do you reject Satan?” They would smile politely and you can almost verbalize what they are saying in their minds. “Reject Satan? Oh, ok, maybe you mean the figurative personification of evil?”

Someone I know at least had the honesty to ask me pointblank, “Why don’t you just say, ‘Do you reject EVIL?” And I answered him and also politely said, “Ok, you want to make it more abstract than personal.” And he said, “Oh, it can be personal too, as in, ‘Do you reject EVIL PEOPLE?” And I said, “Sorry, but that is not what the Christian faith teaches us.” His eyes grew big and he said indignantly, “What do you mean? There are so many evil people in this world!” And he started giving names, “Like so and so…”

I smiled and said, “Maybe you mean people who do evil, not evil people. They’re not the same.” He said, “What’s the difference?” I said, “Just because people do evil doesn’t mean they are evil people.” He almost sounded angry when he proceeded to ask, “How else do you explain why we have so much criminality and corruption in society? That is precisely the reason why some people deserve capital punishment. I am sorry but I do not agree with the Church’s stand about death penalty. We really have to get rid of the bad weeds in society.”

Then it is my turn to ask, “And who, may I know, created these people you call EVIL or BAD WEEDS? Certainly not God, if you believe in a GOOD God. Unless you believe in the existence of an EVIL GOD who supposedly created the people you call “evil”. That is a heretical idea, by the way. It has nothing to do with Christianity.”

It is then that I usually hear them adjusting their views, like, “Ok, I get what you mean. Maybe God created them good but they have turned evil.” And that gives me the occasion to say, “No, we always distinguish between a person and his thoughts, words, or actions. All human beings are by nature good; but even the best among us are capable of evil thoughts, words, and actions, which will never mean they are evil in themselves. We hate sin but we love the sinner nevertheless. We hate Satan precisely because we care for those whom he misleads. This is a basic Christian principle.”

I do not call this mindset jurassic; I call it humane and compassionate. We condemn the sin, not the sinner. We hate evil, but not the person who commits it. We try instead at each time we are hurt by some people’s evil deeds, to understand why they behave the way they behave. Could it have been the upbringing, or his life’s circumstances, or some experiences of abuse? Could he merely be acting out what he himself has been through in his life?

Our Gospel today tells us people were amazed with Jesus because HE TAUGHT WITH AUTHORITY? What does the evangelist mean by that? I think it means Jesus knew who his REAL ENEMY was. As Paul says it in Ephesians 6:12 , “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood (meaning, human beings) but with the principalities, with the powers, with the real rulers of this present darkness in this world, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”

He spoke with authority, unlike the judgmental scribes, who categorized people as CLEAN and UNCLEAN, righteous and sinners, good and evil. They are the ones who believe that salvation is possible only for those who do good and avoid evil.

For Jesus, there is no “authority” at all in such an attitude. It tends to give up too easily on sinners, as if they were beyond redemption. Their righteousness tends to degenerate too quickly into self-righteousness.

For Jesus, there are people who hurt others or themselves, not because they want to, but because they can’t help it. They do evil not because they are evil in themselves but because they are under the spell of the Evil One. It is what we mean by POSSESSED. We mean UNFREE or in some state of ENSLAVEMENT. That is why the Lord says, his mission is proclaim “liberty to captives, release to those oppressed…”

Only MERCY can change our perspective about evil in this world. It is mercy that enables us to treat ONLY SATAN as our enemy, never our fellow human beings, It is mercy that enables us to LOVE OUR ENEMIES, DO GOOD TO THOSE WHO HATE US, PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE US. It is mercy that makes us hold on to the basic goodness in every fellow human being despite whatever evil they might be capable of committing. It is mercy that empowers us for radical love, into believing that nobody, I repeat, nobody is to be treated as beyond redemption, as far as Jesus is concerned.