We have just three verses to reflect upon in today’s Gospel (Lk. 10:19-21), but it turns out that this is more than enough for one day! Jesus is explaining to his disciples why they had so much success in the mission on which He had sent them. They had returned to him, exhilarated and full of joy, exclaiming: “even the demons are subject to us in your name!”
First of all, He explains why this had happened: “I have given you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you.” Power is the theme here: the superior power of the Lord over that of the devil. We know from Genesis and Revelation, and a few places in between, that the serpent is a symbol of the devil. We see also in the Book of Revelation that demons are likened to scorpions: When the shaft of the bottomless pit was opened and dark clouds of demons emerged, we read that they “were given power like the power of scorpions… their torture was like the torture of a scorpion, when it stings a man” (9:3-5).
The power of the demons is not insignificant, but it is vastly inferior to the power of the Lord. Jesus shows that He can authorize his disciples to exercise that power in his name. It is so much greater than demonic power that Jesus says his disciples can tread on the demonic powers as if they were small reptiles or insects.
This is something we ought to keep in mind. Anyone who is baptized into Christ and the Holy Trinity, and who has responded wholeheartedly to his call to discipleship, has the power to tread on the power of the enemy. This power comes from the grace of God and is applied through the exercise of our will in faith. The limitations of our weak human nature need not be an obstacle to overcoming the power of the enemy. Recall that when St Paul complained to the Lord of a “messenger of satan” who was severely harassing him, the Lord said that his grace was sufficient, and not only that, but divine power was actually perfected through the Apostle’s infirmity, and this ended up being a more resounding defeat of the devil.
So, when we are experiencing temptations or any other malice or cunning attacks of the enemy, if our hearts are with the Lord, we can simply say, “I tread on you in the name of Jesus,” and as the Lord said, the power of the enemy will not be able to hurt us.
Jesus issued a little admonition to his disciples, however, lest they lose their proper focus and give all their attention to the fact that now they had power over the enemy. He said: “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven.” Our attention should be focused neither on demons nor on our authority over demons, lest we succumb to pride and end up losing that very authority. The power to overcome evil is not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. The end is Heaven, the Kingdom of God. What Jesus was implying was that the fact that they were his disciples and hence were granted a share in his power and authority, simply means that they are among his elect, and as such they can have confidence in attaining the goal of eternal life in Heaven.
This is what we ought to focus on as well. Heaven should be everything to us, that is, everything that “Heaven” implies should be everything: God the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Angels and the Saints, and all that God has prepared for those who love Him. This is our goal, our joy, our hope. All that the demons throw at us, all the ways they try to stir up our concupiscence or lead us to unbelief or despair—all these are merely snakes and scorpions on our path that we are to tread upon as we advance toward the Kingdom. We attend to them only long enough to overcome them, and then we turn our attention toward Heaven, for therein should lie our rejoicing.
In our efforts to keep safe from the evil serpents ever lying in wait for us, let us turn toward the Woman whom God designated as the one who would crush the serpent’s head ever since the fall of man. He explicitly put enmity between the Woman and the serpent, knowing that the devil would never have the least hold upon the Immaculate One, and hence she would be victorious in every encounter or attack. Our Lady is often depicted in sacred images treading upon the ancient serpent, so she is the prime example of one who has power over the enemy by the grace of God. The devil could never hurt her, and if we stay united to her he won’t be able to hurt us, either. She will lead us along the narrow and difficult path to the Kingdom, imploring for us the grace of her Son, which will be sufficient for us even in the worst of attacks. Let us, then, ask the Blessed Virgin to clear the path of evil vermin, so we can lift up our eyes and hearts to the mysteries of Heaven, and rejoice to find our names written therein.