Reading: Luke 11.15-26
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.’
Too often we think we understand. We see or we hear, and then we convince ourselves that we ‘understand’. A child unexpectedly behaves out of character, or a friend seems too preoccupied to give us their undivided attention, or something out of the ordinary suddenly occurs and we convince ourselves that we “understand”. Our need for ‘understanding’ is so great that most of us cannot accept that what we are seeing or experiencing is really beyond our comprehension, outside our influence or control. This is the situation that confronts Jesus in today’s reading.
Those who opposed Jesus could not deny the evidence of their own eyes and ears. They saw and heard Jesus rebuking demons. They saw and heard those demons obeying Jesus as they obeyed no other. Those opponents of Jesus come to the ‘obvious’ conclusion (well, obvious to them!) that one of just two thing must be happening. Either Jesus was the bearer of God’s authority, or he was in some sort of power relationship with the devil. By latching on to the ‘in league with the devil’ option, Jesus’ opponents were seeking to distract people from the wonder of what he was doing, and what he really came to earth to do. Those opponents of Jesus were hinting at dark and sinister motives underlying all that he was doing. Those opponents of Jesus were hoping that the “there’s no smoke without fire” argument would discredit him and give them the victory they craved.
We are all susceptible to the errors of judgement made by those first century opponents of Jesus. We all like to think that we ‘understand’ and that we can control the world in which we live. We all struggle with the fact that we can neither understand nor control God. We are also all guilty of making assumptions about people and situations. Yes, we too often say to ourselves: there cannot possibly be smoke without fire: he or she must be guilty; that situation must be his or her fault.
Today’s reading contains a dire warning for us all. We need to accept that we can neither understand nor control every situation we encounter. Sometimes we just have to accept that God does know best, even when that takes us completely unawares! We should also take note of the way our assumptions can damage others. To ‘assume we know’ is to fall far short of God’s command to love our neighbours as ourselves.