Evil Cannot Compete with the Goodness of God
Reflecting on the Second Sunday in Lent, Three Days after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 105:1-15, (16-41), 42
Old Testament: 2 Chronicles 20:1-22
Gospel: Luke 13:22-31
God of the covenant, in the glory of the cross your Son embraced the power of death
and broke its hold over your people. In this time of repentance, draw all people to yourself, that we who confess Jesus as Lordmay put aside the deeds of death and accept the life of your kingdom. Amen.
O our God, will you not execute judgment upon them? For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you (2 Chronicles 20:12).
But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ (Luke 13:27)
When I was young, I played little league baseball. I have no idea how teams were chosen. We just waited to receive a call from our coach in the spring informing us of the team we were on. Whether it was coincidental or some coaches rigged the draft, it was clear halfway through the season that some teams had the lion's share of the talent and other teams were woefully lacking in ability. I was fortunate enough to have played on the one of the most talented teams in the league, and at the time it was quite fun beating up on the less talented teams. When I played little league some forty years ago, there were no rules about everyone having to play at least a couple of innings and there were no mercy rules when it came to scoring. Thankfully, most kids’ leagues now have such rules in place, but when I was playing, if the score was 32-2 in the last inning, we played until the very last out. There were evenings when the competition we faced was not really much competition.
Bishop and Cappadocian Father, Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330-395) writes the following:
Thus the obedient and responsive soul gives itself over to the virtuous life. This life is freedom itself, on the one hand, from the chains of this life, separating itself from the slavery of base and empty pursuits. On the other hand, this soul devotes itself to faith and the life of God alone, because it sees clearly that where there is faith, reverence, and a blameless life, there is present the power of Christ, there is flight from all evil and from death which robs us of life. For shameful things do not have in themselves sufficient power to compete with the power of the Lord. It is their nature to develop from disobedience to his commands. This was experienced in ancient times by the first man, but now it is experienced by all of us when we imitate Adam’s disobedience through stubborn choice. However, those who approach the Spirit with honest intent, unfeigned faith and an undefiled conscience, are cleansed by the Spirit according to the one who says, ‘for our gospel was not delivered to you in word only, but in power also; and in the Holy Spirit and in much fullness, as you know’ (On the Christian Mode of Life).
Gregory’s words here are quite instructive when it comes to the nature of our temptation and sin. The “shameful things” as Gregory calls them cannot compete with the Lord’s power. There is no dualism here, no thought that the principalities and powers are on equal footing with God when it comes to the outcome of the battle. We do not witness two foes of equal strength. The forces of evil are no match for the God of the Universe.
The problem, as Gregory sees it, is human unwillingness to give up those things that cannot compete by our “stubborn choice” in hanging on to such things. It’s as if we refuse to play on the side of the team that will obviously win and side with the weaker team because we think we will have more fun in the loser’s dugout, than being out on the field playing with the winner. We rob ourselves of the power of Christ because we choose not to pursue the blameless life, the life of faith.
But sin cannot master us if we are willing to let the Spirit work in our lives—if we have, as Gregory states, “honest intent, unfeigned faith and an undefiled conscience,” and if we approach the Spirit in such a posture, the power of God can and will deliver us from those things that so powerfully imprison us, but that are no match for the power of God.
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