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 armor 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.”
When all else fails, attack the person, not his or her ideas or actions.
This, at least, seems the strategy of Jesus’ opponents. Unable to counter the miracles and teaching and presence of Jesus, they instead resort to attacking him personally. How else could he cast out demons, they ask, unless he was empowered by the greatest of demons?
To which Jesus replies that the house of Satan could never stand if demons were going to attack each other. Rather, he asserts, the power he employs to free the children of God from the grip of evil is God’s and God’s alone.
How often, I wonder, do we do the same? How often, that is, when we are unsure or challenged by what someone says or thinks, do we dismiss their beliefs or actions or arguments based on assumptions we make about who they really are?
When we meet someone of another faith, or of no particular faith, do we seek common ground in our shared humanity or do we find their different beliefs threatening and so dismiss them? When we meet someone who is very different from us – perhaps speaks another language, or embodies different cultural customs, or has very different political beliefs, or has a different sexual orientation — do we dismiss this person as utterly different from us?
Don’t hear me wrong. I am not saying that we have to believe everything someone else tells us or agree with someone who thinks different from us, just that we should not dismiss them as persons because we do not understand or agree with something they believe or have said or done.
By writing Jesus off because they do not understand them, his opponents have no chance to meet him or behold the new thing God is doing in and through him. Who knows, maybe they wouldn’t have believed in him anyway. But we’ll never know.
Prayer: Dear God, empower us always to see beneath words and deeds and beliefs to the person, a person created and loved by you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.