Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted.’
In these modern, sophisticated times we rarely speak of the devil. We might speak of evil, exploitation, injustice and prejudice, but we would rarely hear those ‘evils’ being described as the work of the devil. And, if someone did describe them in that way, we would probably back away, shaking our heads and speaking of religious fanaticism.
In today’s reading Jesus speaks of the devil in a clear way. Jesus speaks of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell. While he does not mention the devil, or Satan, or whatever name you wish to give him, explicitly, that is clearly the one of whom he is speaking.
In these days that immediately follow our remembrance and celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Church presents us with the challenge of reflecting upon the lives of those who were martyred for their faith: Stephen, the first martyr, the Holy Innocents and, today, St Thomas of Canterbury. Stephen and Thomas stood firm in their faith in the certain knowledge that, despite the death of their bodies, their souls would not be destroyed. The Holy Innocents were just that, rendered holy and protected by God, because they were too young and innocent to have strayed from the righteous path … they had not been presented with the choice of turning their backs on God.
In the service of Holy Baptism parents and godparents are asked: Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God? Their considered response is: I reject them. This is a commitment being made on behalf of the one being baptized, but is expressed in the first person, I reject them. Each parent and godparent is being asked to renew their own commitment, as well as declaring that decision on behalf of the ones who cannot yet answer for themselves.
All who are baptized have taken the decision to reject the devil and all rebellion against God. But, how good are we at honouring that commitment? The devil lurks around every corner. Everything that tempts us away from honouring, praising and worshipping God is the work of the devil, the work of rebelling against God. Every time we set aside the words and deeds that we should be using to honour and proclaim our faith in Jesus Christ, is a moment when we are stepping away from this fundamental baptismal promise. Every time we are arrogant, cruel or selfish we are rejecting God, and not the devil.
The temptation to stray from the path God has laid for us is great. Let us pray for the strength to remain steadfast in our commitment to living the true life of faith. Let us pray that we might always be ready to turn away from the path which leads us to the works of the devil, even if it is that path which will ensure our safety and our success in this world. Let us pray that we might honour the memory of God’s holy martyrs in a way that proves that their sacrifice was not in vain.
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