Humor: once there was a poor young couple, and the husband served as a minister. He complained to his wife for breaking her promise not to buy a new dress. She responded, “The devil made me do it. It’s his fault for tempting me.” He replied, “You could have said, ‘Get behind me Satan!’” She said, “I did, but then he whispered over my shoulder, ‘it fits you beautifully in the back too.’”
The two men possessed by demons in today’s Gospel reading from the Fifth Sunday of Matthew (8:28 – 9:1) gives us the opportunity to talk about the first demon, the devil. Fr. Anthony Coniaris provided many thoughts about Satan in his sermon “The Truth About the Devil and His Demons” (This is My Beloved Son: Listen to Him, vol. 1, pp.145-152).
Satan is clever. He knows how to play us, both our weaknesses and our strengths. The Apostle Paul warned that he masquerades as “an angel of light” [14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. (2Corinthians 11:14)]. Satan was in the beginning the angel of light. That’s why his name was ‘Lucifer’ which means “bearer of light.”
St. Clement of Alexandria said, “God created an archangel and the archangel made himself a devil.” Jesus said, 18 And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. (Luke 10:18). [12 “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! (Isaiah 14:12)]
We know more details about Satan/Lucifer’s fall from the Book of Revelation:
7 And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him… 12 Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.” (Revelation 12:7-9,12)
Now he has become ‘Satan’ because, as the name means, he “opposes and plots against” God. And his newly chosen darkness must be disguised so that he may tempt us give in to our weaknesses and pridefully exalt ourselves in our strengths. The word ‘demon’ comes directly from the Greek and is a fallen angel, one of Satan’s disciples.
He cannot fight God, so he tries to hurt God by harming His children. He is the one who “entered Judas” (John 13:27) to bring about the betrayal and death of Jesus. He is the one who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.
Thus, he earns his second name, the devil or ‘diabolos’ because he divides us from God and from each other.
Because of Satan’s great ability to disguise himself, many people do not believe that he even exists. And that becomes one of his great tricks. The devil is able to convince us that he does not exist. He is like the opossum, that fierce little rodent, who, when cornered by its enemies, plays dead.
Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in his book, “Jesus, the Man Who Lives”: “I have found the devil easier to believe in than God…a diabolical presence in the world pulling downwards as gravity does instead of pressing upwards as trees and plants to when they grow and reach resolutely and beautifully after the light.”
One of the other tricks of Satan is to turn things upside down. He portrays good as evil and evil as good. This is the unforgiveable sin against the Holy Spirit (Mt.12:31). Satan is the father of lies. Think about how sin is portrayed in movies, television shows and other media. Fornication and adultery are no big deal. Abortion and homosexuality are upheld as virtuous. But, speaking as a parish priest, perhaps many of you have also noticed, these sins are terribly hurtful and destructive to people’s lives, and not to just the one or two people directly involved, but to many more indirectly. In fact, demons have other names today such as pornography, addiction, alcoholism, greed, envy, lust, etc.
It is important to know our enemy. The devil always takes the good things that God has created for us to enjoy and tries to get us to distort and abuse them. For example, the demon of money is greed. The demon of sex is lust. The demon of self-respect is pride. Money is not evil but the love of money is! 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1Timothy 6:10). Sex is not sinful but using others for one’s selfish gratification outside of marriage is. Listen to what Jesus says about Satan on this matter:
44 You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. (John 8:44)
[Story about scorpion and turtle.] The nature of the devil is incorrigibly deceitful and destructive, illogical and irrational. That’s why evil does not make sense. There is no logic to it and often a sign of devil’s presence is the confusion he causes. He promises freedom but delivers slavery. He promises life and delivers death.
Have no doubt though, Satan is for real. Jesus Himself had to struggle with him during His forty days in the wilderness. He taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “deliver us from the evil one” (Mt. 6:13).
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1Peter 5:8)
The devil has not changed in his ways with us. Master deceiver that he is, his approach is always with a lie.
4 Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)
The devil comes and tells us: “You don’t need God to tell you what to do. You are not the puppet. You can do things your own way. Be totally free. Set your own rules. You call the shots.”
“The devil made me do it.” Once Satan has convinced us to sin, then he moves on to his third trick of lies, that is to convince us that we did not commit sin. Thus, we blame others, even Satan himself. However, St. Cyril of Alexandria says, “The devil is able to suggest, but he has no power to force himself against our choosing. It is by choice that we sin.” Sin arises within us as the demons take advantage of our sinfulness. They aggravate it by introducing evil thoughts into our hearts. This is why Jesus urges us to “watch and pray” that we may not nter into temptations (Mt.26:41). Evil thoughts do not become sinful thoughts until we welcome them into our hearts and begin to take pleasure in them, mulling them over and over.
So how do we resist Satan? Knowing his three tricks is a start. Remember: 1) he does exist; 2) he is a liar, but 3) he does not have power over us. There are some other strategies we can employ to counter the devil.
St. Makarios the Great said, “The most important work in the spiritual struggle is to enter the heart and there to wage war with Satan; to hate Satan, and to fight him by opposing thoughts…by fornication in his thoughts, then there is no profit whatever in keeping his body pure.” 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)
By entering the heart, we can guard its gate to oppose the logosmoi or thoughts by joining forces with God who dwells also therein. 4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4). As Jesus said, 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. (John 15:4)
With God’s inner presence, we have the power and the authority to command Satan to leave us and leave us alone (Mt.16:23; Mark 8:33).
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” 11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him. (Matthew 4:10-11).
St. Gregory Nazianzen says, “If the devil tempts you to ambition by showing you in an instant and in a single glance all the kingdoms of the earth, and if he claims that they all belong to him, then do not believe him for he owns nothing at all.”
But the greatest weapon of all against Satan is prayer. That’s why he works so hard to distract us from prayer with our daily chores. That’s why he entices us to skip liturgy with weekly chores, entertainment, sleep, recreation, family time, etc. Because the devil knows he has no power against prayer, so he tries to prevent us in the first place.
Someone said once that in God’s kingdom there is always an election going on. God votes for you and the devil votes against you. But you have the deciding vote. Who will you vote for: God or Satan? Truth or lies? Freedom or slavery? Life or Death? 24″No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. (Matthew 6:24). Amen!