In today’s gospel reading, we hear people saying of Jesus, ‘The Devil made him do it.’
That’s a loose translation, of course: The conversation in question preceded Flip Wilson’s famous comedy routine by about 2,000 years.
Here’s how we actually heard the passage at Mass this morning:
Some of the crowd said: ‘By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.’
Pretty cool name, ‘Beelzebul.’ I’d have to say it carries a bit more cachet than some of the monikers we hear most often to describe the Fallen Angel…names like Satan. Diablo. Prince of Darkness. Lucifer.
Of course, these days, you’re mostly likely not to hear people speak of the Devil at all. The tendency is to write him off as superstition. We’re too smart to believe in demonic forces. We’re in total control of our lives. And if we look hard enough, we can find a rational explanation for just about anything.
All of which proves one thing to me: Beelzebul is very good at his work. He’s a master of disguise.
Consider that name ‘Lucifer,’ for instance. It means ‘Light Bearer’ – pretty much the exact opposite of ‘Prince of Darkness.’ Yet somehow this dude finds a way to make both names apply. Both are accurate depictions of the Devil’s impact on the world.
You could say Lucifer’s stock-in-trade is to carry just enough light into a situation—just enough of the truth—to make us think we’re getting the full story.
And so, we conclude that we’re too sophisticated these days…too well educated…to believe in demons. The Devil—the personification of Evil—doesn’t really exist. We’re not buying it.
And bingo! That provides just the opening Lucifer needs to trip us up…so that we start wandering around in darkness.
I was thinking about that the other day as I was reading James Martin’s fine essay—“Is the Devil for Real?”—in Time online. The Jesuit priest notes that he has seen the effects of evil in people’s live…an evil that is more than something from within themselves. He goes on to say:
In my experience, there is a certain sameness to the way that people describe this force. St. Ignatius of Loyola in his classic 16th -century text The Spiritual Exercises, once delimited the three ways that the “enemy of human nature” acts: like a spoiled child (making a person act childishly, selfishly, refusing to take no for an answer); like a “false lover” (tempting the person to conceal his bad motives or sinful behaviors) or like an “army commander” (attacking a person at his weakest point.)
I know I’ve felt those very same forces—and more—at work in my life from time to time. Which is why I find it helpful to call Beelzebul (or Satan or Lucifer) by name.
Doing so helps me to recognize him as the master of disguises, and as a force more powerful than myself or my good intentions.
And then I am reminded to call on the Name that is above every other name…so
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.