Lent 2 – God’s will, our sanctification

Lent 2 - Juan de Flandes - Christ and the Canaanite Woman c. 1500

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8       St Matthew 15:21-28


This is the will of God, your sanctification...
[1 Thess 4:3]


Lent is a time to go up to Jerusalem with Jesus.  If you have entered into Lent by giving up some normal pleasure – whether that is having less food or less interesting food or a giving up of some entertainment or having some rules around what we watch or our use of screen time – we will discover ourselves to be a little more agitated than normal.  We are discovering how dependent we are on external supports for our happiness.  And if we are undertaking this fast in a serious way, we will be wanting to turn our attachment to these external supports, into a greater dependence upon God.  It is about waking up spiritually, it is about drawing closer to God.

We are now in our second week of Lent.  Last Sunday Jesus was tempted by the devil.  Our readings this Sunday and next are about Jesus confronting demons in us.

To the modern world, talk of demons, evokes a reaction for some of curiosity, even humour, or denial.  Most seek instead some other psychological or medical explanation for all our troubles.  And no doubt there is much good to come from the study of the soul and of the body.

But the Bible is clear from beginning to end that there are real and ever present spiritual forces of wickedness that would undermine us.  They are active and they are subtle, so subtle that they would rather we didn’t notice their work, so they could continue the work of subtly undermining us.

But Jesus has come to uncover that subtlety and to put an end to the oppression of demons.

In Catechism we speak of certain renunciations we make as Christians. And in the baptism of Emme two weeks ago, we heard the promises made by her mother and godparent, on behalf of the child, to renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh, so that you will not follow nor be led by them.

The Church teaches that there are three sources of weakness or attack on our soul – the devil, the world, and the flesh.  But the devil has an interest in our falling also for the world and the flesh.  We have a natural inclination, and should, desire the good things of this world but, the devil would try to stir up in us an excessive desire and bind us once we’ve stepped beyond the bounds.  And we have desires of the soul and body that are natural and that we should have, the passions, but the devil would try to bind us by these passions of the soul and body into a self destructive path.

In our Gospel this morning, a Gentile woman comes to Jesus, on behalf of her daughter who was severely oppressed by a demon.  We are not told the source of that oppression.  Our Epistle reading focusses us on one area of possible oppression – the passion of lust.  St Paul says: This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.  God desires our holiness, that is, that we follow the passions of our soul and body in accordance with their true purposes.

The Gentile woman knows that her daughter was oppressed – the devil taking some natural passion and turning it into a real and destructive enslavement – she was severely oppressed by a demon.

The Venerable Bede, an English monk in the 8th century, wrote in his sermon for the second Sunday in Lent around 720AD (using these same Gospel and Epistle readings all those years ago!).  He says,

“The daughter beset by a devil, is any soul in the Church that is delivered up to the deceptions of malign spirits rather than to her Maker’s commands…”

Later he says it is any soul “dominated by thoughts born of the devil’s heart and maddened by his craft.”

Jesus tells us that the devil is the father of lies. [John 8:44] Demons will seek to pollute our souls by encouraging us to fall into an excessive love of the world or the flesh.  To believe the lie that the object of our wayward love is our salvation.  Any addiction is an example of this.  By these passions we lose our connection with God, and with loving our neighbour, and it can lead us to a severe enslavement.  We can become bound in chains, because it does not satisfy, and we know it, and yet we can't leave it, and it can lead then to despair.  St Paul says in Romans [7] – I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing…Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

In Lent, if we give ourselves to fasting and more time of quiet in prayer, we are probably seeing more clearly, by the light of the Holy Spirit, what is the activity in our mind.  We may be seeing more clearly our inward thoughts.  We may discover ourselves being led sometimes to follow a chain of thinking that is undermining us – that is not of God, it has its source in the crafts of the devil.

If I’m feeling down or discouraged, and I have a thought pushing me down further – that thought is inspired by the devil, it does not come from faith, it is not of God, but from the pits of hell.

Jesus has come to liberate us from destructive ways of thinking, by revealing to us, by the light of the Holy Spirit, destructive thought processes.  One of the most wicked thought processes stimulated by the devil is coming to the conclusion we are not worthy of being saved:  “I have done such terrible things, through my excessive love of the world or through my passions being out of control in some way, that I don’t deserve to be saved.”  And we surrender to the passion, not to Christ.

These thoughts in one way are true – if we have hurt others, if we have hurt ourselves by actions contrary to the Law of God, if we have polluted our souls – we are told clearly by the Law that we deserve death, our conscience may have told us this too.  But what is the next step inwardly in our thoughts?  The devil is there at that very moment to push us over the edge to despair; the Holy Spirit is there, at the same moment, to recall us to faith in our merciful God.

The Gentile woman who came to Jesus, on behalf of her daughter, was clear in her own mind that her daughter was out of her mind and needed help from beyond herself.  This Gentile woman was also pushed a little by Jesus, first through his silence, then through his words to her, to unveil what was behind her continuing insistence in prayer to Jesus.  It was her great faith, her trust in the God of Israel, in Jesus Christ, that every one of us can receive mercy, undeserved help, a crumb of grace sufficient to save us – yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”, says St Paul.  Then he answers his question: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” 

From the strict accounting of God’s judgement of our actions under the Law, we are surely all condemned.  But, like the Gentile woman, we insist, you are the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy. [from the Prayer of Humble Access just before receiving Holy Communion]

The God of Israel, Jesus Christ, has come into the world to offer Himself up, even on the Cross of shame, to deliver us from shame, and to assure us that whatever we have done, yes, even that, we can be forgiven, and we can be transformed.

This is the will of God, this is what God wants for us, even our sanctification, our being made holy, pure, fully healed body and soul, able to rightly respond to our passions.  This is God’s will for us.

The Gentile woman is a profound example to us both of her persistence in prayer, but also, of her love for her daughter.  Jesus said, "'O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.'  And her daughter was healed instantly."  The Gospel commends to us pray for others who are not able to hear outwardly the saving message of the Gospel, so that Christ might save that person inwardly. [Bede]

Let us prepare ourselves now, through repentance and faith, to look upon our Saviour, crucified, and then to receive Christ Himself, risen, the children’s bread, that it may be done for us, and for our loved ones, as we desire.

Amen +





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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2