St Matthew 12: 22 – 37 Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. All the crowds were amazed and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?’ But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.’ He knew what they were thinking and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. ‘Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’
Reflection Oh dear – perhaps not the sort of reading we might expect on Valentine’s Day? No fluffy sentiment or grand, romantic gestures here! There can of course be conflict in relationships, though hopefully not as strong as those encountered between Jesus and those who opposed him.
Jesus’ usual response to criticism and questions is to tell a story – and as one who purports to having a ‘narrative theology,’ I confess that, normally I thoroughly approve. It’s not as if he is doing a clever-clever politician thing and, by telling his story, avoiding answering.
However, there are times when I just wish he would simply respond – and here is one such time when he does. And how!
When accused of casting out demons by the power of other demons, he deftly demolishes their premise by pointing out its absurdity, before declaring clearly and succinctly that he does what he does by the power of God’s Spirit! Can you imagine the faces of his audience as he says that? In my mind’s eye I see smiles at the lightbulb moment. Though, sadly I also see angry frustration on the faces of those opponents who have been so comprehensively outsmarted!
In truth I am not entirely comfortable with the words that follow all about blasphemy and speaking against the Holy Spirit – not least because such words have been disgracefully used by Church authorities in the past to unleash violent punishments upon those they see as having done so.
Nevertheless the analogy of good fruit from good trees and the concept of the good person bringing good things out of a good treasure, while the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure I find clearer, positive and encouraging. It’s a model worth following.
It is also worth being reminded that we will be judged on our actions, and the choices of trees and treasures we make … and to be wary of the words, sentiments and expressions we utter?
Prayer Dear God, on this day focusing on romance, roses and cards, remind us constantly of the true value of love: love in action; love in our words; love in caring; love in giving; love in supporting others; may the love we share and exhibit reflect the love you have for your people and your planet. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Clark, Retired Minister & Member of Bridport United Church.