“A house that is divided against itself will fall.” I think I heard this line from Fridays’ Gospel only recently from the mouth of a congressman vying for the speakership.
When you send out a package, it is a challenge to pack it well to protect its content. But when you receive a well-packed parcel, it is also a challenge to unpack it. The readings on Friday are both very tightly packed; let us try to unpack them.
Let’s start with the first reading. What is St. Paul trying to say to the Galatians whom he called STUPID in the earlier part of chapter 3? Paul is trying to explain to them that the legacy of Abraham is not the Law, but FAITH. The Law of Moses did not even exist yet during the time of Abraham, in the first place. Moses came several generations after Abraham.
What do we mean by Abraham’s “legacy of faith?” Well, God called him and he responded with obedience. Through Abraham, God now intends to reverse the curse of sin and faithlessness. Gen 15:6 says, “Abram put his FAITH in the LORD, who attributed it to him as an act of righteousness.”
What is FAITH? Pope Benedict defines faith as as “the human RESPONSE to God.” (How can we even speak of faith, or—how can we even respond if we have not, first of all, heard or been awakened to God’s call?) It is because of Abraham’s response of obedience to God’s call that he receives a twofold blessing as a man of faith: first, BLESSING TO Abraham, and second, BLESSING THROUGH Abraham, to the rest of the world.
In short, he was being BLESSED in order to be a BLESSING to all humankind. We hear this in Genesis 12:1-3 “I will bless you…so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you…so that all the families of the earth will find blessing in you.” Meaning, we’re not truly blessed until we become a blessing to others.
The problem with the Galatians is that they had been influenced into thinking that it was by observing the Law that could obtain God’s blessing. For Paul it is quite the opposite. You become faithful to the Law because you have been blessed. And the blessing is brought about by FAITH—meaning, by our response to God’s call, the response of love to the God who loved us first. It is only then that we can be a source of blessing to the rest of the world.
For Paul, observance of the law can be motivated by fear, not necessarily by faith. When it is motivated by fear, what it generates is not blessing but curse, especially when you disobey the commandments after binding yourself to them. For Paul, it is Christ who saves us from the curse of the law by fulfilling Abraham’s legacy of faith in his kenosis, in his response of total obedience “unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:8)
Now we go to the Gospel. Jesus is accused of expelling minor demons through the power of the prince of demons, Beelzebull. Jesus explains to them that the thought itself is ridiculous. If evil operates that way, he says, it would have collapsed since a long time ago already.
Now he turns the table on his accusers by asking them: What about you? By whose power do you drive out demons? They keep quiet, of course, because they are unable to drive them out, in the first place. It means God’s power, namely, the Holy Spirit, is not at work in them.
Then he says, if all you care about is to keep yourselves clean of minor demons, but you don’t welcome the Holy Spirit—who alone has power over them, whom will you end up welcoming? You only make space for the more wicked demons. Why? Because you rely on your own power, your own righteousness through observance of the law, as your armor or defense. When the more wicked demons come, they disarm you easily and take over without any effort. And so you are unable to defend others because you are unable to defend yourselves in the first place.
Now, Jesus argues, if I am able to liberate those enslaved by the evil spirits, it could only mean the finger of God, namely, Holy Spirit is at work in me. It means God’s Kingdom has come upon you. It means God’s promise to Abraham is now being fulfilled; his blessing is coming upon the world.
It is not your observance of the law that will keep the demons away; it is rather your faith, your response to God, which opens your life to his Gift of the Holy Spirit. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can you liberate others and bring God’s blessing into their lives. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can you bring about the Kingdom of God.
I can only wonder what sort of spirits are at work in the division that is presently taking place in the Lower House of the Philippine Congress. Is it signaling a take-over by the Holy Spirit? Or is it just a sign of more superior demons replacing minor demons? I leave that to your own discernment.
This is a homily delivered by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for Oct. 9, 2020, Friday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Lk 11:15-26