22 They brought to Jesus a demon-possessed man who was blind and unable to speak. Jesus healed him so that he could both speak and see. 23 All the crowds were amazed and said, “This man couldn’t be the Son of David, could he?”
24 When the Pharisees heard, they said, “This man throws out demons only by the authority of Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.”
25 Because Jesus knew what they were thinking, he replied, “Every kingdom involved in civil war becomes a wasteland. Every city or house torn apart by divisions will collapse. 26 If Satan throws out Satan, he is at war with himself. How then can his kingdom endure? 27 And if I throw out demons by the authority of Beelzebul, then by whose authority do your followers throw them out? Therefore, they will be your judges. 28 But if I throw out demons by the power of God’s Spirit, then God’s kingdom has already overtaken you.
I’ve struggled for years to understand the demon-possession stories in the gospels. Sometimes what are referred to as “demons” seem to be diseases we would recognize today as epilepsy, or mental illness, or even conditions like blindness or deafness.
In short, in the absence of other information, the assumption was that whatever was ailing you was caused by an evil spirit. And Jesus’ ability to heal whatever was ailing you stood as dramatic evidence of his power over them all.
But that power also made people suspicious: how can this man do these things? If Jesus showed up today, we’d probably argue that those he healed were ‘plants’ who were never sick to begin with. It’s clear that the authorities investigated those kinds of questions too (as in John 9), but when they realized that the healings were real, then they needed another theory: that Jesus was secretly a demon himself (John 8:48). Jesus points out the flaw in their logic: so you say Satan is working against himself? Okay…
We’re good at justifying whatever we want to believe. And we can delude ourselves into believing almost anything – so long as what we believe makes us the hero of our own story!
We make ourselves the heroes of our own stories by talking about what I did, what I accomplished, how far I’ve come. Here, the Pharisees’ arguments against Jesus bolstered their own claims to intellectual superiority: of course we understand how you’re doing this. You can’t fool us! When you find yourself saying that, watch out! Self-delusion may well be in full swing.
But what Jesus is offering is a totally different take that removes the emphasis on the achievements of our ego. He says, if you see people getting well, then know that the kingdom of God has already come to you. Don’t delude yourself about your own greatness or understanding – this is God at work, and how it happens is a mystery. Just know that when those things that kept you from feeling whole begin to fade away, we can’t be shy about giving God the credit!
By Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
In the midst of a situation, have you ever asked yourself “where is God in this?” Have you ever doubted that God was there at all? Did your response reflect faith or (over)reliance on yourself?
Prayer: In the face of trials and challenges, Jesus, don’t let me become so focused on myself that I fail to remember you. Don’t let me get so self-absorbed that I can’t see you at work. And when you do show up, help me to remember to give you the credit. Amen.