Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Wednesday in Sexagesima

2 Corinthians 11:19 - 12:9 / Luke 8:4-15

And those by the wayside are they who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, that they may not believe and be saved.

It is a dreadful thing to be a victim of robbery. If you have been fortunate never to have had someone with malice, someone who has been observing you unseen and unknown for days, even weeks, make his way into your home, with only your harm in his thought, then count yourself indeed fortunate. Even when what it taken is ultimately of little consequence, although perhaps of significant value, even should you be so free of attachment to things, baubles, devices, toys, that their absence would impact you only in the least way, there is a special horror, a dread of invasion after the fact, in knowing that the private, intimate spaces where you live out your life have been the unwilling host to an ill-minded villain. The chair where you take your morning coffee, the table over which you dine and entertain, the sofa where you curl up with a favorite book, the bed where you entrust yourself and your safety to almighty God as you sleep — all of these places you know and which connect to those perhaps trivial but no less personal moments of our day have been handled, used, made sport of. It is a dreadful thing to be a victim of robbery.

Now, when our home has been the victim of burglary, we can at least know that what is ultimately of importance has not, indeed cannot be taken away. Standing in the pale of God's love just is not the sort of thing a robber can pilfer. So, all the more alarming is the warning of our Lord that the devil can take away the word from our hearts, and in so doing steal from us both our belief and our salvation. Surely faith, as a gift of God himself, and our salvation, which is in the end God's work in us, are immune from that kind of violence. Surely our hearts, where the Holy Trinity has made a home and come to dwell, can never, so long as we remain bound to God in love, is a place of safety, far removed from the dreadful intrusions of a burglar, be he a fallen angel or not.

Yet, we deceive ourselves if we imagine that the only enemies to our life in faith and our salvation are the ones which arise solely within our own hearts. Jesus warns us in the parable that, while there are certainly deadly tendencies internal to us which can choke the life of the Word, there are likewise external ones which can, in their own way, just as easily snatch it away.

On the one hand, there are those thoughts and ideas, suggested to us from without, whether by the wickedness of dark and twisted spirits or the carelessness of an incautious acquaintance, which it is better not to think. Some ideas, after all, are dangerous to think. It may be important, after all to know of the pathology of sociopathy, and it might even be important for some people, such as the police or forensic psychiatrists, to be able, after a fashion, to think as a sociopath would. However, to form one's mind to see the world with the eyes of a heartless murderer, to conform one's loves and delights to be as his, is quite possibly to deform one's own soul irrevocably. Indeed, this danger is as true of lesser, but in the long run no less poisonous, twistings of the mind and heart. To allow these in is as good as to let their author, the Prince of Lies, take away the good planted in us.

On the other hand, there is a kind of self-censoring, a worry about the forces external to us, that can also hand over to our assailant what we think we are protecting. Prudence in proclaiming the faith is indeed important, but there is a seductive offer, a siren's song which would call us to hold our tongue, to keep private our life in Christ, to learn to engage the world by living and seeming as one of the world. We ought not, the song tells us, to offend where offense may be taken. We should see where words like ours have been used not to heal but abuse, and so keep silent. Yet, as surely as those who opened their ears to the Siren of old found their ships dashed against the rocks and their lives forfeit, so also with the life of faith. To allow the worries of offense and past malfeasance to stop up our living in public witness to the Lord is in the end to hand away what we were given to nurture. It is to give to the devil without contest what he was threatening to take by force.

Can the Evil One take as his own the Lord's irrevocable gifts? By no means. But if we invite a known rascal into our home, or leave our house open and unguarded to avoid crossing his path, can we honestly be surprised to find that what we thought we valued had been taken away? If we had acted to carelessly or timidly about the seed of faith, did we actually want it in the first place?

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