Get Behind Me, Satan!

(Homily for Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A)

You no doubt have heard about “an offer you cannot refuse.” This Sunday I want to talk about offers which a person not only can, but must refuse. Before addressing the one we find in today’s Gospel, let me propose two imaginary scenarios. The first involves housecleaning. Everyone has made the mistake of inadvertently throwing out something of value: a check, a treasured letter, an important document. But suppose someone says to you, “Sure, once in the while I toss something important in the garbage. Nevertheless, I prefer to do that rather than taking time to sort things out.” He then volunteers to help you clean your room. I doubt you would eagerly accept his help.

Or to use a more extreme example: A friend offers you a ride across the state, but tells you that what matters most to him is getting there as fast as he can. If a dog or some other animal gets in the way, too bad for them. Would you take a ride from such a person? I think your answer would be “no,” no matter how much you want to get across the state.

On an infinitely larger scale, Jesus rejected an offer to take the easy way out. He had just said he must go to Jerusalem and there face the cross - one of the worse forms of torture and humiliation ever devised. Peter, with every good intention, tried to dissuade him. Jesus reacted fiercely. He applied to Peter the name of the foulest creature, thrusting him out of sight. “Get behind me, Satan!”

None of us will face a temptation of this magnitude. We will not receive an offer so diabolical as the one Peter proposed to Jesus. Still, temptations will come. A few weeks ago a man made an astounding offer to our nation:

“If your daughter has diabetes, if your father has Parkinson’s, if your sister has a spinal cord injury, your views will be swayed more powerfully than you can imagine by the hope that a cure will be found in those magnificent cells, recently discovered, that today originate only in an embryo.”

The amazing thing about this proposal was that the Senator who made it, in the same speech pointed out that “an embryo is nascent human life. It’s genetically distinct. And it’s biologically human. It’s living.” He went on to speak about his faith and how it teaches the humanity of the embryo. And he added that, as a medical doctor, all this is not just a matter of faith, but something that he knows as a scientific fact. “To me,” he said, “it isn’t just a matter of faith. It’s a fact of science.” He mentioned that each embryo has a mother and father, but in some cases the parents desire to discard these tiny humans. Why not, he argued, ask their permission to perform some experiments on their offspring?

I bring this up not to enter into the political debate. Unless you are a research scientist or a politician, you will probably not meet this issue head on.* You and I will have a more indirect role (voting, perhaps a letter to ones congressman, and of course, prayer). Still, we will face similar Satanic bargains. At times they might require intense discernment, such as certain end of life issues. At other times, they will be obvious and direct, like the two imaginary scenarios I presented at the beginning. They will always imply an easy way out – all gain, no pain. When we hear such a proposal, we need to ask Jesus for the strength to say with him, “Satan, get behind me.”


*Some "ordinary" people, including fellow parishioners, will make decisions intimately related to this issue: Should I (we) pursue fertility treatments which involve in vitro fertilization? Do I understand that these procedures not only go against the meaning of marriage, but involve the creation and destruction of human lives - and the freezing of tiny humans in a state of suspended animation? And, perhaps: would I personally seek a treatment for paralysis, diabetes, Parkinson's, etc., which includes the sacrifice of fellow humans? I hope you would say, "Get behind me, Satan!"

Spanish Version p>From Archives (for Twenty-second Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Finding Your Place Week 4
2011: The Real Cross
2008: Not Spiritual, But Religious
2005: Get Behind Me, Satan!
2002: A Satanic Temptation
1999: Mater Sí, Magistra No?

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