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. But some of them said, ‘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.
Demons come in all shapes and sizes. Most of us assign the word ‘demon’ to those things, or those parts of our lives, over which we have no control. The same might be said of what we see in this passage with opposition to Jesus at its best. As some respond in faithful discipleship, others challenge Jesus pointing towards his final rejection.
The event that leads to the discussion is an exorcism of a demon that had caused a man to be struck dumb. The man is able to speak again. The crowd is amazed and start speculating about what kind of power Jesus possesses. But they don’t understand. Some call Jesus out for being controlled by Beelzebub, others suggest waiting for a sign from heaven.
Jesus, knowing their thoughts, responds. He argues that it is foolish to think that Satan has sent one of his minions to undo his own work of destruction. So, he offers them an alternative thought: If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” In other words, this miracle is evidence of the arrival of God’s promised, redemptive rule. He goes on to teach them a parable about a strong man being defeated by an even stronger man. Here is the ultimate cosmic civil war, then, and we must decide: do we follow Jesus or follow Satan? One will be the agent of God’s deliverance, the other will not.
Jesus gives us a clue as to what we should do. The exorcised man is compared to a house that is swept clean and is ready to be inhabited, this time by seven other spirits so that the man’s situation is now worse than it was before. Jesus’ point is simple: do not leave your inner “house” empty but take control of the things of the kingdom.
When I lack control over my demons and all around me rages, O God, let me trust in your protecting love and strengthening power, that I may be wholly filled with the things of the kingdom: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control and faithfulness, giving thanks that your grace is sufficient for all I need. Amen.
The Rev’d Nicola Furley-Smith, Moderator of Southern Synod.