Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday in Pentecost, Proper 25: Destroying death through death

Opening Sentence
Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:4

Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies

Commemoration: St. Simon and St. Jude
O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Psalter: Psalm 41, 52

Lessons: Revelation 11:1-14, Luke 11:14-26

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 his extraordinary authority. Or he was somehow in league with the Prince of Demons. (The word 'Beelzebul' or 'Beelzebub' was a kind of nickname, originally meaning something like 'Lord of Flies'. By Jesus' day it was simply a way of referring to the personal source of evil without giving it, or him, a more precise definition.)

Accusing Jesus like this was, for the opponents, an ideal way not only of rejecting Jesus' message about the kingdom, but of launching a propaganda campaign against him. 'Ah,' they were saying, 'don't just look at the outward effects! You need to understand what's going on behind. Then you'll see he's a scoundrel--in league with the devil himself!' Those who were not with him were therefore against him (though this proverb-like saying needs balancing with 9.50, and wisdom is required in deciding which applies to which situation).

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 the satan 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 or holy 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 satan, 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.

N.T. Wright
Luke for Everyone

O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing