Jesus said Satan was being conquered by the Gospel. How did that happen then? How does it happen now? Are we still applying the Gospel to advance the good and limit if not eradicate the bad by the grace of God?
There are many ways to live and many different foundations of faith to stand on. Christianity and Judaism are rooted in worship (which teaches us humility, reverence and awe in God’s presence). Faith assures us that God willingly shares a divine spark and spirit with every member of the human race. Faith invites us to see each other differently than the world views us—i.e., as consumers, numbers, quota or constituencies.
With many abandoning organized religions these days, the most popular “alternate religion” is humanism, which, although it denies God and the need for worship, continues to reverence the human being. As it abandons the Jewish and Christian belief in the Divine Spark, the soul in every person, humanism maintains the importance of people as individuals. It champions “free will” not as a God-given right but a right, nonetheless. It values “liberty” while softening its tendency to selfishness by borrowing the biblical ideal of unity among peoples for the common good.
Yes, Humanism promotes tolerance and good will, respect for differences but without the profound Eucharistic dimensions of true acceptance. Humanism has difficulty with Jesus’ insistence on forgiveness and reconciliation rooted in the Jewish Covenant. Humanism promotes a vision of the future in which everyone gets along but that lacks the profundity of the Biblical promise of a new heaven and a new earth guided by cooperation with a loving God.
Why are these distinctions important? Because without God there is no true humanity. Without God there is no true humility; no deference to a wisdom and love greater than our own. Humility rooted in submission to God acknowledges human weakness, limitations, tendency to selfishness –what we call “sin”—without which we see ourselves as little gods, tribal leaders, kings and queens or their modern counterparts, presidents and prime ministers of our own design. The Bible does say, at times, “You have made us little less than a God,” but the emphasis is on “less than.”
In contrast, humanism trusts not in the Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit but in a trinity of its own inventions—commerce, science and technology. It is time we realize that, more and more, humanism surrenders human dignity to these newly created gods making “Progress” the greatest good. If not kept in check, progress will advance at the expense of all religions and even humanist values.
Saint Paul insisted on humility as a faith foundation, an essential ingredient in true goodness when he wrote: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Covenant with Israel insisted “”Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you, sing praise to your name!”
And Jesus saw evil being conquered through the efforts of 72 disciples (both Jews and Gentiles at this juncture) participating in His Gift of the Holy Spirit when he said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. … Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” i.e. God is at work through you. That is the faith that will bring you to eternal life. Life is not about us, but God in all. We view ourselves as “masters of the universe” at great peril.
Jesus’ commandments to the 72 disciples emphasized God, not humanism, not commerce, nor science. Jesus sent the 72 abroad to experience God through deference to the kindness of strangers, requiring disciples to see every individual and family as members of God’s family. Jesus’s instructed them to “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals” Why? He did not want them to find their confidence in material things but in the Spirit alive in them. Jesus said, “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment.” Notice the “payment” is not gold or riches or social advancement but a sustaining meal; meals in which people truly listen to one another, attend to each one’s feelings and share questions that evoke conversation of values, of faith, of rights and wrongs. And, since no one is always “right,” but all are sometimes wrong, with forgiveness and hope. Today’s counterpart to the 72’s experience would be meals without cell phones and private texts, meals without tv, computers or other distractions, meals where monetary concerns are put aside.
Today’s Scriptures offer lessons that teach us how to engage in the modern age. We must be consistent in posing critical questions to our neighbors, employers, politicians, doctors and heads of corporations and technological conglomerates:
“Who will benefit from these business decisions, from these economic standards, these political views and who will be left out? Will these new technologies advance the health and wellbeing of all or a select few? Who may be harmed by these decisions and advances? Do we want to repeat the sins of the past or learn from them instead?
Commerce, science and technology offer amazing possibilities but without God, without you and me and other people of faith, they have no motivation to value a common humanity over a privileged humanity; no value system to nurture mother earth for the common good. Instead they will nurture advancement for its own sake, over and above everything and everyone.
Building on the Jewish prophets, Jesus has empowered us to keep commerce, science and technology in check. We must align ourselves with the 72 disciples as we approach the Eucharistic table today. We must ask the Lord to strengthen our faith -filled convictions, to expand our reverence for God, for all God’s people and God’s good earth. If we do not leave this church today with that kind of reverence, what will become of our world? To which Trinity will we have allegiance? Whose people will we truly be?