Sunday, February 10, 2008

Satan, the Master of Verbal Deceit

(First Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on February 10, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Genesis 2:7-3:1-7.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: First Sunday of Lent 2008]

One day shortly after her husband’s death, Judy got together with a friend of hers at the local coffee shop. At one point during their conversation Judy said, “Did you know that my husband Joe was a real cheapskate? He didn’t even leave me any insurance money!”

Her friend said, “Well if he didn’t leave you any insurance money, where did you get that beautiful new diamond ring you’re wearing?”

Judy paused for a few seconds. Then she said, “Well, okay, I’ll tell you the truth. Joe did leave me $10,000 in his will. Out of that money, $1,000 was to be used to buy a nice casket, and $9,000 was to be used to buy a nice stone.”

Then she smiled, held up the diamond ring and said, “And this is a very nice stone indeed!”

Now I would like to think that Judy simply misunderstood her husband’s request, but it’s pretty clear from the details of the story that she knew exactly what he wanted: a nice gravestone over his remains at the local cemetery.

But she wanted a diamond ring instead, so she conveniently and deceitfully twisted the meaning of his words to justify her action.

Which, incidentally, is exactly the kind of thing that Satan does! Satan is the Master of Verbal Deceit; he loves to twist the meaning of words, he loves to play games with words—for the purpose of leading human beings into sin and eventually into hell!

He even tempts people—like Judy—to play games with their words in order to rationalize their sinful behavior.

And so very often, it works.

It all began in the Garden of Eden, as we heard in today’s first reading from Genesis 3. When Eve said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die,’” how did the serpent respond?

He responded by twisting the meaning of God’s words, in order to lead Eve and her husband into sin! He said, in effect, “God didn’t mean that you would actually die! He said that because he really doesn’t care about you. He wants to hold you back and keep you down and squelch the incredible potential that you and Adam have as human beings!”

Then Satan played the ultimate word game to seal the deal and get Eve to take the big bite. He said, “If you [and Adam] eat this fruit, you’ll be like gods who know what is good and what is evil.”

The key word in that temptation, of course, is the word “know.” Yes, it’s true, God does know the difference between good and evil—as the devil said. But he knows it like I know the difference between good health and typhoid fever. For me, typhoid fever is something that’s “out there,” because I don’t have the disease personally (thank God!). I know it in my mind only; I don’t know it experientially!

God “knows” evil in the same way. It doesn’t touch his inner life; for him, it’s always “out there”. But when Satan said to Eve, “If you eat this fruit, you’ll know evil too,” he meant something very different. He meant, “If you eat this fruit, you’ll know evil—because you’ll actually experience it! You’ll know it from the inside. You’ll know it in the sense that it will come into your heart and make you miserable and ruin your entire life.”

This is why I called Satan “the Master of Verbal Deceit.”

Twisting the meaning of words is one of his most despicable talents.

And it’s one that he’s still utilizing today, in our generation, by getting people to redefine words and concepts in order to justify their evil actions.

For example, think of how the word “freedom” has been redefined in recent years in order to justify everything from pornography to so-called “gay marriage.”

Think of how “rights” have been redefined in our civil laws so as to exclude the “right to life” of the unborn.

Think of how the meaning of the word “person” has been changed, in order to justify evils like embryonic stem cell research. These men and women say, “The embryo is not a ‘person’ according to us, so we can do whatever we want with it.”

Forty years ago in medical textbooks “pregnancy” was rightly said to begin at the moment of conception. That’s how the word was defined. But certain doctors who wanted to justify the use of abortifacient contraceptives (like the IUD and the birth control pill) succeeded in changing the definition, so that now medical textbooks say that pregnancy begins at the moment of implantation.

How diabolically convenient!

There are literally dozens of words that fit into this category: marriage (that used to mean one man and one woman, but now in certain circles it can mean just about anything); normal (so-called “normal behavior” in 2008 is very different from normal behavior 50 years ago); virtue and vice (their meanings have actually been reversed in some segments of our society—virtue has become vice and vice has become virtue!).

All these words and many others have been redefined in our culture for the sole purpose of defining deviancy down, and making sin acceptable.

It’s a clever strategy. And it will continue to work—as it worked with Adam and Eve—unless by the grace of God we resist and put a stop to it, beginning in our own personal lives.

The choice, as always, is ours.