Resistance to evil is at the core of what it means to be a friend and follower of Jesus.
At last Sunday’s baptism we promised to “persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever [we] fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 304). We make this promise at every baptism and whenever we reaffirm our baptismal vows.
Evil exists and can be embraced by individuals, groups, institutions, and movements. Just as no human being or other entity can be completely good, I don’t think it’s possible for someone or something to be completely evil. But, I do believe that as we live, we engage good or evil in such a way that one force or the other can come to dominate how we act and how we treat others.
Our movement towards good or evil is made up of all the tiny choices we make every day: Do I build up or tear down? Do I contribute or take away from? Do I look for mercy or demand vengeance? Do I seek the common good or my own good above all else? On and on, the choices go, as spiritual energy for good or evil builds up within us.
In the Eighth Chapter of John, the religious leaders are trying to trick Jesus and accuse him of having a demon. In response, Jesus gives us a good rule of thumb for spotting the devil’s work and for recognizing when evil energy is trying to break in. Jesus says,
Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. (John 8:43-45)
Jesus identifies the devil (the personification of evil) as a murderer and liar. The love of God empowers us to resist both—in ourselves and in the world. We should remember that a murderer is not always raging, angry, and loud. But a murderer is one who wants to obliterate another—to erase someone who is in the way, to wish them ill, or make them disappear. A murderer might take the life of another in an instant, but we should also be alert to the slow, quiet methods that kill just as surely.
Jesus points out that lies are the chief work of the devil. “Resisting evil” means that we resist telling lies, that we refuse to listen to lies, and that we do all we can to help others live with authenticity and truth. The ability to know the truth comes from the hard work of listening, gathering information, living out of one’s soul, and then praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we’re wrong, we confess it, and move forward in forgiveness. When we’re on the side of truth we stand together and nothing can defeat us.
This Sunday in New York City, millions of people will march to celebrate a sense of pride in and on behalf of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community (as well as all others who refuse to be pigeon-holed or labeled in sexual terms). Many of us who identify with some aspect of that community have lived into and out of our own deep truth. At times we have faced the cost of that truth but we also rejoice in truth’s liberating freedom. The Pride March is a celebration of truth.
Especially given the challenges of our nation, any celebration of truth can empower us to speak and live the truth wherever we are: with families, in the workplace, in the community, or in the church pew. As we lean on one another to resist evil, let us draw on the Spirit’s strength to guide us into all truth and recommit to following Jesus our way, our truth, and our life.