St Francis of Assisi
Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi
Reading 1 jb 42:1-3, 5-6, 12-17
and that no purpose of yours can be hindered.
I have dealt with great things that I do not understand;
things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know.
I had heard of you by word of mouth,
but now my eye has seen you.
Therefore I disown what I have said,
and repent in dust and ashes.Thus the LORD blessed the latter days of Job
more than his earlier ones.
For he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels,
a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she-asses.
And he had seven sons and three daughters,
of whom he called the first Jemimah,
the second Keziah, and the third Kerenhappuch.
In all the land no other women were as beautiful
as the daughters of Job;
and their father gave them an inheritance
along with their brothers.
After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years;
and he saw his children, his grandchildren,
and even his great-grandchildren.
Then Job died, old and full of years.
Responsorial Psalm ps 119:66, 71, 75, 91, 125, 130
Teach me wisdom and knowledge,
for in your commands I trust.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
that I may learn your statutes.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
I know, O LORD, that your ordinances are just,
and in your faithfulness you have afflicted me.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
According to your ordinances they still stand firm:
all things serve you.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
I am your servant; give me discernment
that I may know your decrees.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
The revelation of your words sheds light,
giving understanding to the simple.
R. Lord, let your face shine on me.
Gospel lk 10:17-24
“Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.”
Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.
Behold, I have given you the power
‘to tread upon serpents’ and scorpions
and upon the full force of the enemy
and nothing will harm you.
Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,
but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”At that very moment he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said,
“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows who the Son is except the Father,
and who the Father is except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”Turning to the disciples in private he said,
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
There are three themes inter-twined in this text: joy, salvation, and the sovereignty of God. In verses 17-20, Jesus urged the disciples to find their joy in their salvation, not in their authority over the demons. In verses 21-22, Jesus expresses His own deep joy, based upon the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men, and in the part He was to play in this salvation. In verses 23-24, our Lord turns the disciples’ attention to the saints of old, who yearned to see God’s salvation, but who were not privileged to see what the disciples’ eyes were seeing.
It is difficult for us, from our vantage point, to imagine the reticence of the seventy (or 72) as they went out to proclaim the gospel from city to city. Think of how you would have felt if you were sent out, just being told these things.
(1) You were being sent out as “lambs among wolves” (10:3).
(2) There was in what Jesus said a great deal about rejection (10:10-16).
(3) You were sent out with no provisions (10:4).
(4) You were told to eat whatever you were served (10:7-8).
If we were honest, we would have to say that going out under these circumstances would have been less than desirable. I would have gone out with my knees knocking, expecting to be rejected often, and wonder where I might stay and what, if anything, I might have to eat. This is not that different from what many modern missionaries face, but it is nevertheless a fearful thing to do.
The Disciples’ Joy: Their Salvation
I believe that the apprehensions which the seventy must have had have much to do with the enthusiasm they reveal on their return. They come back jubilant. They have seemingly been successful. Apparently they have been relatively successful. Thus, Luke sums up their report in this one statement:
“Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name” (Luke 10:17).
Their experience far surpassed their expectations. They came back jubilant.
When they say, “even the demons are subject to us,” it would seem that their ability to cast out demons was the epitome, the ultimate evidence of the power and authority they exercised in the name of the Lord Jesus. It is easy to see how they would have come to this conclusion. After all, had the nine disciples not been unable to cast the demon out of the lad (cf. Luke 9:37-41)? If the nine were the “A squad,” and they could not cast out a demon, and the seventy, the “B squad,” were successful, this was cause for great joy. That they were able to cast out demons was proof to the disciples that they had great authority in Jesus” name, and thus a great cause for joy.
Jesus’ response to the enthusiasm and joy of the seventy is most interesting and informative. The first thing I note about His response is that it is warm, affirming, even a sharing in their joy. While their joy may have been misplaced, they were not rebuked.
Before our Lord seeks to re-focus their joy, He first informed them that their ability to cast out demons was evidence of even greater issues than they had imagined. They saw their success only in terms of their having authority over the demons; Jesus was also watching their success (“I was watching Satan fall, …” v. 18, NASV), only He saw Satan’s demise. If they saw the demons as subject to them, Jesus saw Satan in the beginnings of his demise. Satan was, like lightning, falling from heaven. That is, he was falling down, and he was falling “lightning” fast. The coming of Christ and more specifically the cross of Christ was Satan’s defeat, and the mission of the seventy was but a preview of what was to come. Did the seventy see the spirits as subject to them? Jesus saw Satan as being defeated, and his power and authority as being overthrown.
The authority which the Lord had given to His disciples, that is to the seventy disciples, was such that it included power to overcome Satan, and the opposition to the preaching of the gospel which they were sent to proclaim. Their authority in Jesus’ name included the ability to “trample on serpents and scorpions” (v. 19). This may be language which is somewhat symbolic, as the allusion to Satan’s falling from heaven like lightning, but there is also a literal dimension which should not be overlooked. As they were going about from place to place, there was a very real danger posed by both serpents and by scorpions. It would seem as though Satan, the enemy (v. 19), would attempt to thwart their mission by employing such means as serpents. After all, Satan was, in the garden, in the form of a serpent. Because of their authority, however, no such dangers could defeat or hinder them, so long as they were doing what Jesus had commanded them to do. For this moment, and on this mission, they were invincible, indestructible.190
In verses 18 and 19 our Lord affirmed and even expanded upon the significance of the ministry the disciples had when they were sent out. In this they can rejoice. But in verse 20 our Lord now turns the disciples’ attention to a better basis for their joy. If they destruction of Satan was good news, and cause for rejoicing, their salvation was even better news, and cause for deepest joy. In a very gentle way, Jesus told them that they should rejoice in the fact of their salvation, rather than the fact of Satan’s downfall and defeat.
“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
We should not lose sight of the fact that having the ability to cast out demons is not even proof that one is saved. We would assume from the fact that Judas was one of the twelve, that he was successful in casting out demons, as were the others (cf. Luke 9:1-2). To have been unable to do so would have caused Judas to “stick out like a sore thumb,” something of which we have not hint in the Scriptures. The words of our Lord in Matthew’s gospel, however, make it quite clear that unbelievers were able to cast out demons:
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:22-23).
Jesus told His disciples that rather than to rejoice in their power over the demons, they should rejoice in their salvation. They should rejoice in that their names were written in heaven. Initially, the disciples were caught up in their relationship with the spirit world, namely that in Christ’s name they had power over them. Jesus told them that they should be rejoicing in their relationship with God. Joy at the prospect of the termination of Satan’s opposition is nothing when compared to the certainty of an eternal relationship with God. To suggest an analogy, the joy of one who marries should not be so much rooted in the fact that he is no longer single, as in the pleasure of his bride. The joy of the Christian should not be primarily in the destruction of Satan’s hold and power over us, but in the fact that we now belong to God.
The Lord’s Joy: The Disciples’ Salvation
The words of our Lord in these verses are dramatic. They catch our attention because they are the expression of great joy on the part of our Lord, yet at a time when Jesus was resolutely set on going to Jerusalem, where He was to be rejected and put to death (cf. Luke 9:22, 51). In what could our Lord rejoice? What was the source of His joy?
At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Luke 10:21-22).
In verse 21 the Lord’s praise is directed to the Father, apparently while the disciples looked on. In verse 22, the Lord is speaking to the disciples, and yet His words to them are very much related to His words of praise to the Father in the previous verse. The basis of our Lord’s joy is several fold:
(1) The Lord Jesus had abundant joy through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ joy was not humanly produced. How could it be, when He was on His way to Jerusalem to die? The Holy Spirit produced His joy. We might say, in later New Testament terms, that our Lord’s joy was the “fruit of the Spirit” (cf. Galatians 5:22).
(2) The Lord Jesus had great joy in the salvation of men. God the Father had chosen to reveal “these things” (v. 21) to some men, and to conceal them from others. “These things” are, in essence, the knowledge of God’s salvation in the person and the work of Messiah. God revealed His salvation to some, and concealed it from others. Jesus rejoiced in the salvation that was revealed.
(3) The Lord Jesus had great joy in the sovereignty of the Father, which resulted in His revealing His salvation to some and concealing it from others. The sovereign of God in salvation is often spoken of in the Scriptures, but it is surely spoken of here. In verse 20 Jesus spoke of the disciples’ salvation as “having their names written in heaven.” This imagery, often found in the Bible (Exod. 32:32; Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3; Ezek.13:9; Dan. 12:1; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27), stresses the divine choice, made in eternity past, not the human decision made in time. When Jesus referred to His Father as “Lord of heaven and earth” in verse 21 it is the sovereignty of the Father that is spoken of. Likewise, in the revelation of His salvation to some and in the concealing of it from others (Luke 10:21), God’s sovereign will in salvation is stressed.
God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation is evident because those whom we would have expected to recognize Jesus as Messiah (the “wise and learned”) did not (it was hidden from them), while those we would least have expected to recognize Him (“little children”) did so. The difference here between the “wise and learned” and “little children” is not that of intelligence, for little children may be very intelligent, too. The difference is that the “wise and learned” were highly educated, and had seriously studied the Old Testament Scriptures. “Little children,” such as the disciples, were untaught and, as yet, uneducated, and yet they recognized Jesus as God’s salvation.
(4) The Lord Jesus further rejoiced because it was the Father’s “good pleasure” to accomplish the salvation of some through the Son. In the Father’s “good pleasure” it was the Son who was to make Him known to men. Those to whom the Father had chosen to reveal Himself were those to whom Jesus made Him known. Those from whom the Father chose to conceal the truth were those from whom Jesus concealed it (cf. Luke 8:9-10). In the plan and purpose of God, Jesus worked out the sovereign purposes of the Father with respect to the salvation of men. In this role Jesus greatly rejoiced.
Read it all:
THE MYSTERY OF LIFE CAN ONLY BE KNOWN IN THE LIGHT OF THE MYSTERY GOD HIMSELF
SCRIPTURE READINGS: JB 42:1-3, 5-6, 12-17; LK 10: 17-24
The question of suffering and evil has intrigued humankind since the beginning of creation. Why must we suffer? Perhaps, many of us can accept if the sufferings we are going through come from our human sinfulness and irresponsibility in the way we conduct our lives. But the more problematic mystery of evil and suffering is that of innocent suffering, as in natural catastrophes.
The truth is that the answer to the mystery of life can only be known in the light of the mystery God Himself. Man cannot answer the mystery of evil using human logic and his wisdom. The friends of Job tried to do so by deducing that his suffering was on account of his hidden sins. Job vehemently denied that was the case. Hence, mere human rationalization can result in us passing a wrong judgment with respect to God and the sufferer. So what is the cause of suffering and evil? Job tried to press God for an answer. The irony is that God answered Job by asking him where he was when the world was created. (Readers can read the full account of God’s response to Job in the Book of Job 38-41.)
In the face of God’s power and wisdom as demonstrated in creation, Job was dumbstruck and dumbfounded. Truly, who are we to question God? We are finite beings, not God. We are not the ground of life but only a recipient of life. When we contemplate on the wonders of creation, the universe or the human body, we cannot but be humbled at the wisdom of God and His marvelous works. How majestic is our God whom we call the Creator and our Father. In today’s gospel we read how the disciples were amazed that they could overcome Satan and his works in their ministry. “The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’” But take note of the response given by Jesus. “I watched Satan fall like lightening from heaven. Yes. I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you.” Indeed the battle against the Evil One cannot be fought with mere human strength alone. We are dealing with spiritual powers. With spirits, we need spiritual weapons. This is what St Paul advised us when he said, “Put God’s armour on so as to be able to resist the devil’s tactics. For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the Sovereignties and the Powers who originate the darkness in this world, the spiritual army of evil in the heavens.” (Eph 6:11-12) If the disciples had power, it was because of their faith in Jesus, given to those who are humble, docile and obedient to the Holy Spirit.
But more importantly, Jesus enjoined this reminder with the power that was given to them. He said, “Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.” Filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, Jesus prayed, “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me bY my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Truly to know Jesus and to know the Father is even more important than any miracles we can perform in His name. The answer to the mystery of suffering is found in knowing who the Father is in Jesus. If we know the heart of the Father through Jesus’ love for us, especially in His passion, death and resurrection, then we will no longer fear death or suffering, for our master and Lord has gone through the length and breadth of what we are going through. Most of all, through His loving acceptance of sufferings, especially unjust suffering, He demonstrated how evil and sin and suffering can be overcome by unconditional love and mercy.
Consequently St Paul calls Jesus the mystery of God, the mystery that “was unknown to any men in past generations…” (cf Eph 3:1-21). St John would go on to have Jesus telling Philip that to see Him is to see the Father. (cf John 14:5-11) Indeed, because Jesus is the son of the Father, only He can reveal to us the Father’s face.
To be able to recognize this truth is the greatest privilege as Jesus remarked, “Happy the eyes that see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.” If only we know who God is, namely, that He is our Father and that His Son Jesus is our Lord, we can surrender our lives in faith to Him, since we know that He will never allow anything to happen to us without His permission, and that His grace will see us through. And even if we have to suffer for our sins or the sins of others, or because of natural disasters, He will give us the grace to bear all our sufferings. And through our sufferings, we will learn obedience, surrender and most of all, know that our happiness in the final analysis is to rest in Him.
How then can this faith in God’s love grow? The responsorial psalm provides us some guidelines. Only God can reveal His plan to us. Hence we must turn to God, not to the world for guidance. The trouble with us is that we seek truth from the world rather than from God Himself. We must therefore pray for this grace with the psalmist, “Lord, let your face shine on me. Teach me wisdom and knowledge, for in your commands I trust.”
Secondly, with His grace, we will come to know that in and through our suffering we will discover His Face, His Love and His Presence, as the psalmist said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.” Through suffering in life, God’s love is revealed. Unfortunately due to our blindness, we, like Job, only know this on hindsight.
Thirdly, the wisdom of God is founded in His word, of which Christ is the Word of God in person. He is the mystery of God, the revelation of the Father and His divine plan for humanity. Meditating on His word and on the mystery of God revealed in Christ is the way to have access to God’s wisdom.
Fourthly, only the Holy Spirit can lead us to the Father and to Jesus. In the gospel, even Jesus prayed in the Holy Spirit. As Christians, Christ has given us His Spirit, for the mind of God is only known in the Spirit through the Word. Just as the Spirit accompanied Jesus in His ministry, we too must seek the Holy Spirit when we pray and meditate on His Word, asking for enlightenment and wisdom.
In the final analysis what is most important is not to understand the plan and mind of God, nor to have a share in His powers, but rather to share in His divine life and love. It was Jesus’ intimacy with His Father that gave Him the real strength in His ministry, because of the joy of being loved by the Father. Hence He exhorted His euphoric disciples to go beyond earthly joy to spiritual joy. The paradox of intimacy with God is that when we lose everything for Him, He returns everything to us a hundred fold. Job at the end of the story not only recovered his losses, but received double blessings of all that he had lost. We too, will find our happiness and joy doubled when we surrender our lives, our will and our sufferings to His Father, regardless of whether we have our health or wealth or worldly status restored. With God’s love, we are sufficient.
St Francis of Assisi stained glass window at St. Augustine Cathedral in downtown Tucson, Arizona
Art: St. Francis of Assisi and skull By Filippo Vitale