Wednesday, March 6, 2013



Tomorrow’s Gospel reading, from the 11th chapter of Luke’s account, presents, as do most gospel passages, a situation from the time of Jesus with distinct echoes into our time.

As Luke tells us,

“(Jesus) was driving out a demon that was mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute person spoke and the crowds were amazed.” Luke 11, 14

We don’t see many exorcisms (or instantaneous cures for epilepsy, as many, but not all, of these reported exorcisms of Jesus were) nowadays. But bear with me.

What was the reaction of “some of them,” as Luke refers to a group of people probably comprised of Pharisees and/or Scribes?

By the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” Luke 11, 15

Jesus goes on to admonish those who contended that He was an agent of Satan. That admonition, in which He speaks of a “kingdom (in other gospels, a “house”) divided against itself,” was quoted, or paraphrased, by Abraham Lincoln in his speech accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for the Senate in 1858 has thus become part of the fabric of American history. But Jesus’ eloquent retort to His critics is not what I find most interesting about this passage.

Note that the “others” who ascribed Jesus’ power to the devil were the same people who had been constantly asking for a sign earlier in the gospel. And one can understand the demands for a sign; Jesus was expounding some radical ideas, ideas that would change Judaism and shake up the leadership in Jerusalem. When a guy speaks this big, he’d better have something to back up the big talk. So Jesus gives them the sign they seek, though clearly His motives were healing the possessed person, not satisfying the demands of the Pharisees.

What do the leaders of the day do in response to the sign? They dismiss it as the work of the devil. It was as if they were ancient versions of Jake Blues. Jake, as you will recall, was complaining that his brother Elwood had traded in the Bluesmobile (a Cadillac, no less) for a microphone and had replaced the Bluesmobile with a used Des Plaines (I think Des Plaines; it may have been Mt. Prospect.) cop car. When Elwood explains that the car’s

“…got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch mill. It’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks”

and demonstrates the new Bluesmobile’s prowess by leaping over an open 95th Street Bridge, Jake’s only response is

“Fix the cigaret lighter”

when he finds the lighter doesn’t work.

There was nothing Jesus was going to do to satisfy the authorities of the day, just as there was nothing Elwood could do to satisfy Jake.

To further illustrate the obstinacy of the Pharisees and “others,” Luke recounts, right after the Beelzebub comment

And still others to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. Luke 11, 16

Wait; hadn’t Jesus just performed what certainly looked like a sign from heaven in driving out the demons? The demands just kept coming, and the demands could never be satisfied.

Many of us treat God the same way. Ascribing to the popular theory that God is some kind of cosmic Short Order Cook, we make demands on Him. “Give me this, this, this, and that. And throw in something for my Uncle Bruno and Aunt Bernice.” When He doesn’t give us what we want, we complain, feel cheated, and maybe even challenge His existence. And when He does give us what we want, we aren’t satisfied and ask for more.

Like the “others” in this Gospel, we don’t listen to Jesus’ message, or we do listen but don’t like its implications. So we demand that God “prove” His message by some miracle or gift. If the miracle doesn’t come through, we can continue to ignore the message. If it does come through, hey, our order has been filled and we can go ahead and order desert in the form of something else we think we need. There is indeed limited downside to such a practice of Christianity, or such an approach to God, and plenty of upside. We don’t have to do anything or heed any message, and there is plenty of potential for goodies to come our way.

Things don’t change much over the centuries.


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