Summary: Jesus’ presentation of his person and mission forces a decision for him or against him, a choice which abides with those whom he has rescued from the power of Satan.
Third Sunday in Lent
“Evidence that demands a choice”
Several years ago a Christian apologist named Josh McDowell wrote a book on Christian apologetics entitled Evidence That Demands a Verdict. It is still in print today.
The title of McDowell’s book is a little misleading, however, for evidence alone cannot demand a verdict. Just as important as any evidence is how the lawyers manage the jury, for it is the jury which will ultimately render a verdict. And, fundamental to a trial on the evidence is a judge or a jury who are impartial, who can have a sort of disinterested posture toward the evidence.
What we find in today’s gospel lesson is that our Lord very neatly and forcefully dismisses the idea that those who would stand in judgment of him are impartial or disinterested. He brings evidence which does not demand a verdict, but rather, demands a moral choice which will ultimately determine the eternal bliss or torment of those who view the evidence.
In this episode recorded in Luke 11, Jesus enters another of the many running arguments he had with religious leaders of Israel. As the Gospels portray Jesus’ ministry, the scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees initially follow Him about with an attitude of reluctant curiosity. But as JESUS’ popularity with the people grows, the popularity of the RELIGIOUS crowd begins to decline. Consequently, the religious establishment commits itself more and more to OPPOSING Jesus, and this finally culminates in handing Him over to the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate for crucifixion.
The incident related by Luke in chapter 11 poses a startling question to those who watched what happened, and that includes you and me today. That question is this: If Jesus is who He says he is, what then must *I* do? It is at this point that any notion of impartially judging Jesus flies out the window. It is Jesus who will judge us.
The spark that lighted this particular confrontation was a miraculous act of mercy by our Lord recorded in verse 14.
14And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled.
Apparently, there were some religious leaders in the crowd. Luke does not name them; he only reports that they responded to this miraculous action on the part of Jesus by claiming that it was accomplished by the power of the devil. Matthew and Mark, however, also record this incident in their gospels, and they identify Jesus’ opponents as the Pharisees and scribes.
So, this exorcism – this miraculous act of mercy – is met with amazement from the crowd, and an accusation from the religious leaders that it is accomplished by the power of Beelzebub.
The identity of Beelzebub is first mentioned in the Old Testament, in II Kings chapter 1. There, the god of Ekron is named and worshipped as Baal-zebub. The name Beelzebub, depending on just a slight variation of spelling or pronunciation, can meaning anything from Lord of the Flies or Lord of Dung. It’s not hard to imagine why both ideas might not be present, from what we know about how flies and dung go together. In any case, Beelzebub is another name for Satan.
At any rate, the merciful miracle Jesus performs requires an explanation, and so the religious leaders provide the crowd with a judgment, claiming that Jesus exorcised this demon by the power of Satan, and follow this up with a demand for more evidence.
Please note the irony here. “You performed this miracle by the power of Satan¨ they say. And, then they follow up with, “Now show us more miracles.”
By way of answer, the Lord first says quite clearly that this accusation – that He is in the devil’s service, healing, preaching and exorcising demons – is unadulterated hypocritical irrationality.
In the first place, Jesus wasn’t the only one who exorcised demons. “Oh really??” Jesus says. “And, by whose power do your sons exorcise demons? Are they in league with Satan too?” And, so Jesus exposes their hypocrisy.
But, it’s not mere hypocrisy, it is irrational hypocrisy. There is a war between God and Satan. Both sides are struggling to win. The accusation against Jesus amounts to saying that a general would send his soldiers to the front lines with orders to shoot their own comrades. In the same way, the accusation that Jesus is winning battles against Satan by Satan’s power is patently absurd.
Next, the Lord points to something everyone would know – how a thief cannot plunder another man’s house unless he is stronger than the man he is robbing. In this short parable, Satan is the householder and Jesus is the man coming to plunder his house. The point is obvious: since Jesus is spoiling the devil’s kingdom, He can’t be Satan’s lesser minion; He must be stronger than the devil.