Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”
How far will you go to make a bad argument?
You probably know what I mean. Every once in the while you find yourself in the wrong, but rather than admit that and apologize or make amends, you feel defensive and start trying to justify yourself. And that’s when the argument usually turns ugly and before you know it you’re saying things you’d never say and later would like to forget.
I think there’s something like that going on here. Oh, I don’t know if the Scribes ever come to believe they’re wrong or regret their accusation, but I think the dynamic is similar. That is, because Jesus has just rocked their world with a picture and vision of God who is wildly gracious and unpredictably merciful – and therefore beyond their (and our) control – they are seriously on the defensive. Thus, their argument, which at first might sound logical – it’s a prince of demons that is giving Jesus the power to cast out demons – quickly gets turned on its head. If demons are turning against each other, Jesus says, we’re all in pretty good shape.
Once again, though, I’m not too worried about the accusations the Scribes make. I’m more interested in the one’s we make. I think the Spirit of God is moving powerfully in our age to invite us to imagine that God’s mercy is wider and deeper than we may have formerly imagined. God, that is, is once again defying our expectations and broadening our horizons about who is acceptable and what our life in the church might look like.
As nice as it sounds, though, that kind of expanded vision can be highly threatening. And before long we’re on the defensive, justifying our views and beliefs and never stopping to wonder whether God is doing a new thing. (Or even if God is doing the same old thing but we’re beginning to recognize it anew or for the first time.)
But how do we know? I think that’s a really important question and might make us a little more sympathetic to these Scribes. They didn’t set out, after all, to oppose God’s in-breaking kingdom or to resist God’s grace. It’s just that the God Jesus proclaims and embodies is so much bigger than the picture they’ve been carrying that they can’t recognize this God as their God, and so they end up calling Jesus’ vision of God demonic.
So how do we know, lest we fall into the same trap? Jesus gives us a clue. If it’s genuinely of God, it will be characterized by the love of God and the opposition to all that which robs God’s children of abundant life. So when you are faced with the question of whether a “new thing” is of God, before you stand against it ask, first, if it introduces more love into this world God created and loves so much and, second, whether to draws more people into God’s loving embrace.
Prayer: Dear God, surround us with grace, and confidence when the “new thing” you do surprises or unsettles us and remind us always of your steadfast love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.