Third Sunday of Lent Luke 11:14-28
About twenty years ago when I was working in Reading I had a rep who was always constant in bring in new business, but all of a sudden his new business stopped coming in.
In the sales field you do expect a salesman to go through a quite patch, but it does not last for long, however this slowdown just kept going on and on.
I first sent by Sales Manager out with the rep to see if he could see what had gone wrong, but he could not find the problem.
I then sent out my Assist Manager who had a different approach but still came back with the same answer.
I was now left with two alternatives, to sack the rep or go out with him myself, so I arranged to meet up with him for lunch in Newbury.
Towards the end of lunch he started to open up, it turns out his wife had kick him out of his house after over twenty years of marriage and filed for divorce, and he was now live with friends.
The outcome was that I gave him a few weeks compassionate leave to sort himself out, after which he was back on form once again.
The point is what you see on the surface may not be the whole picture; you need to understand what is going on out of sight as well it is only then will the full depth of the problem become clear.
Jesus’ opponents thought they had seen the hidden truth behind what he was doing.
Outwardly, he was rebuking demons, and they were obeying him.
The spirits did what he told them.
People who saw this were faced with two possible interpretations.
Either Jesus really was equipped with special power from God, giving him this extraordinary authority.
Or he was somehow in league with the source of evil power; perhaps he had struck a bargain with Beelzebub.
Accusing Jesus like this was, for He’s opponents, an ideal way not only of rejecting Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God, but of launching a propaganda attack against him.
“Ah” they were saying, “do not just look at the outward effects! You need to understand what is going on underneath.
Then you will see he is a scoundrel, in league with the devil himself!”
Those who were not with Jesus were therefore against him.
Jesus would of course have agreed that there was a hidden meaning behind what he was doing, but it was the precise opposite of what they were suggesting.
His own explanation indicates what is really going on.
He begins by pointing to a fatal flaw in the opponents’ logic.
If Beelzebub is opposing his own troops, he has already lost the battle; his kingdom is split down the middle.
He then invites the accusers to compare him with other Jewish exorcists of the time.
Are they, too, in league with the devil?
If not, why should he be?
Jesus is not claiming to be simply one exorcist among others.
He is not casting out demons by some magic formula, or by using the name of some mighty person.
He is doing so “by the finger of God”, a phrase which Luke hopes will remind his readers of the powerful works which Moses did at Pharaoh’s court (Exodus 8:19), and which the magicians of Egypt could not copy.
Jesus is acting like someone who has successfully attacked and tied up the strong man who was guarding a house.
He has won an initial victory over the devil, and is now able to give orders to his underlings and have them obey him at once.
Jesus is showing, then, that the God of the Exodus is alive and well and at work. His journey to Jerusalem is marked at every step by signs of what He must accomplish there.
The power which enables Him to defeat the demons in the present is the same power by which, through death itself, He will destroy death.
For a moment, though, a warning, Jesus tells a strange story about an evil spirit which returns to the place it left.
This can not be a warning about the likely effect of exorcisms, if it was, it would be better not to do them at all, since the poor person ends up worse off than before.
The point of Jesus’ exorcisms, after all, was not simply to heal as many individuals as possible.
If that was his aim, he was not very successful when seen in the longer term.
Rather, he was aiming to enact God’s kingdom, for Israel and the rest of the world.
Israel, like a demon-possessed person, had been cleansed by various movement of reform.
But unless the living presence of God came to dwell in her midst, Israel would remain vulnerable to the return of the demons.
Jesus stood there among his people, embodying as we shall see the return of God to Israel.
Unless they turned from accusation to acceptance, the demons that had led them to ruin in former days would come back once more but in force.
Jesus’ powerful teaching evoked a typical cry of admiration from a woman in the crowd.
“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27a-28)
When the word of God is at work, what is required is not applause but obedience.