By Dane Neufeld
Reading from the Gospel of Luke, 11:14-26
14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” 16Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. 17But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. 18If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? — for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. 19Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.
21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. 22But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his plunder. 23Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting-place, but not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
The Pharisees accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, an accusation Jesus patiently and memorably dismantles: “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.” Though it may seem at first that Jesus is defending the unity of Satan’s household, he is really posing a test between the kingdoms, like Elijah on Mount Carmel: “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
The image of the kingdom of God as a strong man entering the house by force is a surprising departure from conventional piety. But one can almost feel the fragility of the Pharisee’s household, a structure held together by a teetering patchwork of envy, fear and ambition. Such a house requires constant vigilance to maintain, and the Pharisees always seem to be in a state of anxiety and strain, as if they know at any moment it could all crumble. The irony is that their ultimate scheme to shore up the walls and mend the foundation merely opens the door so that strong man can enter. The kingdom of God is founded on Jesus’s self-offering and sacrifice; everything else will one day collapse in a heap of rubble.
It is important to remember what household we belong to and not waste our efforts on habitations that are doomed to fall. We could devote our energy to managing and protecting our personal brand and image, or we could forget about ourselves and devote our lives to those things that “neither rust nor moth shall destroy” (Matt. 6:20). Jesus calmly proposes the test between the kingdoms because he knows what the outcome has to be. May we too find peace and assurance in the household of God, as divided kingdoms crack and contend all around us.
The Rev. Dane Neufeld currently serves as the incumbent of St. James, Calgary, after serving 7 years in Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta.
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