Central Idea: We need to find healing from the devil which seeks to separate us from our true selves and Satan which seeks to unite us with mindless groupthink.
Jesus rebuked him and said,
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
Let’s talk about the devil today.
Now, I know what you are thinking. The devil? Really, Fr. Kevin? Most of the time we think of the devil, we think of something red with horns and a pitchfork. Our modern culture has trivialized the devil into a mascot at best, or as something found in horror films at worst, possessing little children and spewing vomit on priests. (By the way, I hate when that happens.) It is the stuff of mythology, superstition and special effects. Father Kevin, we are far too sophisticated for the devil. El Diablo! (scary laugh) If you are of a certain age, you can imagine the late comedian Flip Wilson, dressed in drag, shouting: The devil made me do it, honey!
And we all have a good hearty laugh.
But I am not laughing today.
I think I agree with one of my favorite authors, Ron Rolheiser, when he says that we need to rethink, reimagine, rebrand, if you will, the devil and recognize that evil is real, it exists in our world and can even reside in all of us, good people that we are. We can fall under evil’s sway.
The gospels name the forces of hell in two ways: Sometimes they speak of the devil (diabolus) and at other times of satan (satanus). Are the terms synonymous? Not exactly: Diabolus means to divide, to tear apart; whereas satanus, most curiously, means almost the opposite, it connotes a frenzied, sick, group-think that accuses somebody or something. In essence what the gospels tell us is that the powers of hell, satan and the devil, work in two ways: Sometimes they work as the devil by dividing us from God, each other, and from what is best within us. Sometimes they work in just the opposite way, as satan. Here they unite us to each other but through the grip of mob-hysteria, envy-induced hype, and the kind of sick unity that makes for gang-rapes and crucifixions.
Divisiveness and mob-hysteria? Huh. Sound familiar?
At the heart of both of these notions is the deadly sin of envy, an attitude so powerful that it is the center of two of the Ten Commandments, you know, the “covet” ones. Covetousness is the devil’s tool and Satan’s weapon. Through envy, the devil works at dividing us from each other. From envy we get the kind of paranoia, jealousy, and bitterness that destroys families, communities, churches, and whole nations. For instance, I have had a front row seat once watching a family get ripped asunder over an inheritance. Very ugly. When we are envious, we become different people from our true selves. We think, we say and we do things that almost sound like we are possessed by the devil.
As Satan, envy unites us so as to put us into the frenzied, mad pitch of the lynch mob, the crowd hell-bent on crucifixion. We likewise become different people. Think about teenagers at a drinking party. Think about the crowds looting the businesses in Ferguson a few years back. Think about the mob which overran the Capital earlier this month. My guess is that a majority of them would never consider doing horrible acts by their lonesome. But put them smack dab into the middle of a mob, when everyone is doing it, when everyone is frenzied, when everyone is grabbing and taking, well, “out of my way!!” And so we have mayhem, so we have disorder, so we have chaos.
Does the devil seem so cuddly or so fun anymore??
In Jesus we see the exact opposite. He rebukes the devil to be silent and come out of the possessed man. “Be un-paranoid, do not let envy and suspicion divide you from each other, God, and what is highest and best inside yourself!” Everything Jesus says and does is intended precisely to lead us beyond division, dissipation, and being apart from each other. The kingdom he preaches is about coming together.
As well, everything that Jesus says and does is against Satan. He is not into “group think.” He resists the amazement of the crowd, group-hysteria, cancel cultures and the type of hype (even when it seems to benefit him) that wants to over-exult someone and obliterate someone else. Think about the woman caught in adultery. He, himself, always drew his vision and energy from a deeper source, his Father’s will. He knows that will, that purpose, not through mindless group-think, but through deep prayer inside his own heart. He knew the dynamics of Satan. When crowds are under the grip of amazement there is very thin line between wanting to make someone their King and wanting to crucify that same person.
We need to rethink the devil, Satan and evil. We need to rethink how envy and jealousy decays, corrodes and eats away at our hearts. We need to rethink how we can become divided from God, others and our true selves. We need to rethink how we can get caught up in the frenzy and the rage of group think. Yes, we need to rethink the devil.
And the good news today is that we also need to hear Jesus speak to our hearts and say: Quiet, come out of them!