This morning in Matins I read the Gospel reading for the day from Mark 1:23-28:
And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
An interesting Gospel lesson, for though we usually associate Satan with being the father of lies (John 8:44), here we have a demonic spirit actually speaking the truth – Jesus is the Holy One of God! Jesus is not impressed by the demon’s knowledge of fact, and orders the demon to be silent and to depart from the man. There is no love in the demonic truth. This is why demons are expelled from the Kingdom of Heaven. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), something those possessed of evil cannot do.
“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).
“Let all that you do, be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).
If this demon was shuddering, it still spoke the truth. Jesus is not interested in the demonic truth; rather his interest lies in triumphing over Satan in any form or manifestation. The issue here is power. Satan has no power over Christ – can’t even try to get away with telling the truth.
A similar story is told in Acts 16:16-18, this time with St. Paul dealing with a demon who tells the truth:
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by soothsaying. She followed Paul and us, crying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul was annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
Truthful demons have no place in God’s kingdom, are given no voice, and in fact are expelled. There really is a demonic truth: Speaking a truth is not enough to get you right with God. The underlying issue is one of love.
A final story for us to consider from Matthew 26:48-50, regarding Judas and those who arrested Jesus:
“Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him.’ And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Hail, Master!’ And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, why are you here?’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.”
Judas too spoke the truth – he gave the kiss of peace to the one he wanted the authorities to arrest, just like he said he would. He addresses Jesus as “Master.” His words aren’t false, and yet they are.
“Neither like Judas will I give you a kiss,” we profess before receiving Holy Communion.
Like Judas we each are capable of speaking demonic truth, why else do we tell the story of Judas’ betrayal of Christ every year? It neither helps Judas nor changes the story nor aids in our salvation. We remember the story, not to condemn Judas but because it speaks to each of us about how we behave today; for what is to guide our every deed and action is love for God and neighbor.