O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
God, our judge and saviour,
teach us to be open to your truth
and to trust in your love,
that we may live each day
with confidence in the salvation
which is given through
Jesus Christ our Lord.
I will give thanks to you, Lord, with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your marvellous works.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will make music to your name, O Most High.
When my enemies are driven back,
they stumble and perish at your presence.
For you have maintained my right and my cause;
you sat on your throne giving righteous judgement.
You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.
The enemy was utterly laid waste.
You uprooted their cities;
their very memory has perished.
But the Lord shall endure for ever;
he has made fast his throne for judgement.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Some of the crowds said of Jesus, ‘He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.’ Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? – for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his castle, his property is safe. But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away his armour in which he trusted and divides his plunder. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
‘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.” When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then 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 world in which we live is full of evil. Humanity has become very skilled at dominating and persecuting those who are perceived to be the weakest. This survival of the fittest approach to life stems from the mid-19th century evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin … although it was not Darwin himself who first coined the phrase. Whilst this brutal, even amoral, principle is repugnant to many, it is the driving force behind much that we would describe as ‘modern life’. Survival of the fittest has become a mantra which drives so much of everyday life; many have become anaesthetised to its fundamental cruelty and inherent self-centredness.
Today’s reading opens with Jesus being accused of using the power of the devil to exorcise demons. Jesus is, in effect, being accused of using some sort of conjuring trick to lure people into a relationship with the devil, rather than his declared intent to open a new way into the Kingdom of Heaven. This accusation lies at the heart of much of the criticism that is levelled against Jesus’ message of divine love … its challenge to the religious practices of the day are seen as being ‘too good to be true’, the challenge must be coming from the devil and not God.
Jesus’ response turns this argument on its head: no house that is divided against itself can flourish. If the devil were casting out his own demons, then his power base would be weakened and would ultimately crumble. Jesus’ response gives us the only logical and true explanation for his acts of deliverance: they come from God, just as they demonstrate the power of God to cleanse and heal even the most troubled of minds.
Hardly a day goes by when we are not confronted by the news of terrible suffering. Much of that suffering, if not all of it, is rooted in the way those who are ‘strongest’ are willing to exploit and abuse those whom they perceive to be the ‘weakest’. The strongest survive at the expense of those who are not as fit. In the context of the Christian gospel, this is evil at work in our world.
Many of us feel impotent when confronted with evil on this scale. But, if those who profess the faith of Jesus Christ will not stand up and challenge the evil, how will it ever be defeated? Rather than the devil’s house being divided against itself, the complacency of many Christians demonstrates just how successful the devil has become at setting different parts of Christ’s Church against itself.
Christians are called to be outward looking, courageous and bold in the faith. Such an attitude will not court popularity and it will not necessarily be that ‘safe’, but whoever said that the Christian way through this life was safe?
Let us pray that we might be bold and true as we live the Christian life in this world. Let us pray that we might be courageous as we challenge all that diminishes the unity of Christ’s Church as it strives to bring about a world in which all might enjoy the riches of God’s grace.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, the source of healing and grace.
Give to your Church grace to be constant in all the duties laid upon her, while looking always to the greater calling beyond this world. Heal her divisions and make her one in love, so that no evil can enter.
Come to the rulers of this world and make them know themselves to be responsible only to you, the Ruler of all. Give to all who desire the good of humanity a shared will and a common purpose to work freely together.
Be close to us in our families, healing the doubts and conflicts that may trouble us. Teach us also to know that all are members of our family, because they are yours.
Have mercy on those who have lost their power to resist the attacks of evil. Bless and enable those who work to relieve their suffering. Empower and protect exorcists and healers of mind and spirit.
As Jesus was raised from the dead, so grant resurrection and new life to those who have died trusting in him. Though their outward bodies have perished, clothe them in the new garments of salvation.
We pray through Christ, by whom we are healed and empowered to be his people.
Prayer for the week
Lord and heavenly Father,
make us mindful of your presence with us;
that we may draw near to you
with holy and humble hearts,
and offer prayers and praises
acceptable in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.