The devil, the strong man.
No one can make his way into a strong man’s house and burgle the property unless he has tied up the strong man first. Only then can he burgle his house. If Satan is the Strong Man, then Jesus Christ is the burglar who robs the house. The Lord steals back from the Evil One those who have been ensnared by his wiles. Jesus immobilises the Enemy. The Redeemer ties up the Strong Man. The Saviour rescues the victims whom the Devil has kidnapped. We are the beneficiaries of Jesus’ burglaries: accessories before, after and during the fact. We all of us who have fallen into sin are rescued by a courageous house-breaker who pinions the one who has deceived us and releases us from the prison of wrong-doing. Jesus leads captivity captive.
Are we uncomfortable with speaking of Jesus as a criminal? Do we prefer not to think of ourselves as swag carried off from a robbery? The Lord is, of course, no wrong-doer. However He was put to death as if He had been a criminal. And His ‘crime’, we could say, was to have rescued fallen human beings from their thrall to the Evil One. The scribes were saying Beelzebul is in him. It is through the prince of devils that He cast devils out. These critics were mistaken and there was malice in their error. Yet the Lord for all His perfection and goodness does not fastidiously hold aloof from what is wrong. Jesus seeks out the company of sinners. Our Redeemer can be found at the scenes of crimes. God came into the world to find and cure what needs healing. The Lord is our doctor. However He is that sort of emergency medic who must break down the door in order to begin the good work of caring and curing. Jesus the house-breaker bursts into our life not to pillage but to save.
The Incarnation is God stealing into a house to rescue those in it who are being held to ransom. Satan is not the owner of this house but, criminally, has taken charge of it. It can seem as if evil is in control of the world. The sheer quantity of trouble can persuade us that forces opposed to God have taken over. This is no doubt an exaggerated idea of the power of evil. Nevertheless the Lord offers Himself as our champion in the fight to retrieve matters and to reassert the authority of the good. Jesus wants to win. Will Christ the rescuer stop at nothing to triumph? No. God respects our freedom. The Lord is patient and persistent yet He can be definitively rejected. Our Saviour strives to win us for God. He might push hard at our door but He would never break us. Humbly the Redeemer pleads for admission. Excluded, He might take advantage of a window left open to gain admittance to our life. The small window unlatched is our openness to divine grace. Our Lord Jesus Christ approaches us openly and honestly. However His faithful love for us is such that we can sometimes experience Him as importunate. The Hound of Heaven scratches at our door. God longs to be allowed in: He does enter our life. Sometimes we are unaware of His presence. Sometimes we welcome Christ among us as we might welcome a burglar.
Jesus is not a thief but he comes like a thief in the night. The Lord surprises us. At a moment we do not expect, He intervenes in our life to help us and to rescue us from evil. He is not truly a burglar but He does approach us unobtrusively, even secretly, to tie up our enemy so as to allow us to prosper spiritually. The troubles which are soon over, though they weigh little, train us for the carrying of a weight of eternal glory which is out of all proportion to them. Our Saviour liberates. He lifts burdens. He cancels debts. The ‘breaking and entering’ and ‘the burglary’ are the way that grace surprises us. Some aperture in the fortress of our self-sufficiency is found and exploited. Do we intend to cooperate with God’s grace? Only sometimes! The ‘tying up of the strong man’ is not Jesus exempting us from the struggle for goodness. The Lord helps us to play our part. The Enemy is impeded for a moment but is still a great danger to us. Where is our own wholehearted resistance to the Strong Man? At least we learn to acknowledge our own weakness. Graciously, mercifully, God permits our salvation to include our own contribution: we make a little effort and it counts. Included also is our tit-bit of knowledge of good and evil. A difference is also made by the glimpse given us of future glory and by the sustaining hope which that generates in us.
The grace of God enables us to make progress in our life of discipleship. Divine help fortifies our will, our resolve and our ambition for goodness. Grace enlightens our mind. God ‘the burglar’ slips in through the ‘open window’ of our intelligent inquiry into truth. Gradually we are less intimidated by our task than before. The strong man is tied up when Jesus permits us to catch sight of victory. We move forward a little. We gain confidence that the forces of evil are not sure to win. The Lord is the stronghold of my life: whom should I dread. When those who do evil draw near, they stumble and fall.
The ‘house’ that is our spiritual life could be emptied of what is valuable if the Strong Man continues there unimpeded. Our ‘house’ experiences God’s help when we discover with relief that the sacraments have made us stronger than we were before. Fortified by prayer, we realize that some of our wrong desires have indeed been ‘tied up’. We are surprised to find that some of our evil impulses exercise over us now a little less power. Jesus ‘the good thief’, Jesus ‘the righteous robber’ bursts into our life and immobilises our spiritual enemies. Such a capturing is freedom. Such an ‘intrusion’ is the most welcome of long-awaited visits. May your healing work, O Lord, free us we pray, from doing evil and lead us to what is right.
I will make enemies of each other, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. It will crush your head and you will strike its heel. The help of God is channeled to us through Our Lady. Hail Mary, full of grace we pray. We ask the support of the Mother of God because it is through her accepting of Jesus that we are enabled to accept Him also. Her Yes to God liberates our Yes to His grace. The battle between good and evil is far from over. The sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary reappear in the sufferings of the world. Our hearts are scalded: her heart is pierced by a sword. We benefit from Our Lady’s intercession and protection when the Lord’s arrival in our little world finds us in trouble and His first service to us is to pinion our enemy. Grace cannot be embezzled. Do as He tells you says Mary to us in our crisis. We obey and discover that God is already at work tying up our evil impulses, controlling what we as yet cannot control by ourselves, calming that evil which for us is at present too powerful. Our obedience, itself a gift to us, needs that preliminary grace which comes to us like a burglar opening a forgotten little window. The transformation in our life is like an angel suddenly appearing with astonishing news in the prayer-room of a seemingly insignificant Daughter of Sion.
The burglar-Saviour gives us a preliminary advantage in a mighty struggle. Good and evil battle it out in our soul and in our world. We are not spared this fight today just as the perfection of Our Lady did not spare her pain. Yet victory is within our grasp. Jesus is with us. He carries us off. We are not however His swag. He enlists us as free disciples who are delighted to escape from evil with our Deliverer. The Son of Mary makes us members of His family. We are recruited to the league of Christ’s gentle accomplices. Courageously we enter with our Brother, our Captain into another locked house. Now our target is heaven. To this manor Jesus is the only door. Once inside, we will be safe with Mary and all the Saints, all our brothers and sisters who reign with Christ in glory. In the Kingdom of God we cannot be robbed. The many mansions which are our eternal home are completely secure. There are no intruders in heaven only all those sons and daughters of God whom Jesus has brought into His family circle and brought home to be at ease with Him. For we know that when the tent we live in on earth is folded up, there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home not made by human hands, in the heavens.
Peter Gallagher SJ