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 is 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.
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