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. ‘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.’ While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’
The female witness to these events points us back to the manifesto given in the synagogue at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus experienced opposition then, and, as he continues his healing ministry bringing about signs of the kingdom, that continues in this chapter.
The mute man has been exorcised of a demon and given his voice. The reaction of onlookers is mixed – some marvel, others mutter and doubt. Jesus’ critics seek more evidence in the form of a sign. They question by what power is this healing made and engage in theological debate by suggesting the powers used are demonic.
Who is Beelzebub (Lord of the Flies)? This isn’t a Jewish title for Satan, according to Caird , but maybe a corrupted name for Baalzebul (Lord of the house), a pagan deity identified with evil spirits. Jesus rebuffs this understanding of the source of his power and in so doing challenges his critics and their theological stance. If the power used comes from God then the kingdom has been realised among them. They have not understood the signs they have already been given and by implication the critics have chosen the wrong side spiritually. Rather than gathering into the kingdom they are scattering.
The warning underlying the two illustrations is to remain delivered. Take care about choosing what fills the space that has been emptied. The healed man can choose to take the opportunity to fill life with good things rather than bad, or relapse. The onlookers are being encouraged to look beyond being amazed to choosing which authority to allow to be in control of their lives. Blessing lies in not just hearing what God says but living in obedience to God’s voice.
Lord, for ourselves; in living power remake us self on the cross and Christ upon the throne; past put behind us, for the future take us, Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.
Timothy Dudley-Smith (1926- )
The Rev’d Viv Henderson, Minister of Minehead URC and Chaplain at Wellesley Hospital