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Thursday of the Third Week of Lent. The reading is from Gospel of Luke 11:14-23.

 

Jesus and Beelzebul – Luke 11:14-23

Jesus was driving out a demon [that was] mute, and when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed.

Some of them said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.”

Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven.

But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.

And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons.

If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out?

Therefore they will be your judges.

But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.

When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils.

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

The Jews of Jesus’ period believed that in addition to God and his material creation, there existed a world of spirits, some good and some evil, who interacted with human beings; and that the evil spirits harm human beings and also lead them astray into disobeying God and his commandments.

Banishing Satan and the allied spirits under his control from the world, and the destruction of his rule over human beings becomes part of Jewish Eschatology. In continuity with the eschatological prophecies of the prophets, there were two distinguished periods of human history. It asserts that the present period of history is under the control of Satan, or a synonymous eponym, but will end with the approach of the time of eschatological salvation.

In Jewish understanding, human beings are capable of having some limited control over Satan and his allied spirits, and have the ability in certain instances to counteract or reverse their malevolent influence by having extensive knowledge about them and using the proper skills or rituals to expel and control them. Jesus, a Jew, accepts this idea, and sees his own period in history as the period in which the Kingdom of God would replace the Kingdom of Satan.

Jesus was known not only as a healer, but also to a certain extent as an exorcist. These two categories – healing and exorcism – overlap to some extent because possession by a demon can often manifest itself as physical ailments in such persons. In many instances, a person who has been exorcised is said to be healed.

In the Synoptic Gospels we see a lot of instances of exorcism by Jesus. Here, I cite a few.

1. Luke 11:14-23 = Matthew 12:22-30: In Matthew and Luke, the Beelzebul controversy is precipitated by Jesus’ driving out a demon from a man.

2. Mark 1:21-28, Luke 4:31-37: At the synagogue in Capernaum, the evil spirit possessing a man recognizes Jesus and cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”  Jesus drives out the evil spirit saying “Quiet! Come out of him!.” Before departing with a loud cry, the unclean spirit shakes the man violently. The witnesses to this event are amazed that Jesus has authority over evil spirits.

3. Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39, and Matthew 8:28-34: Jesus heals a demoniac man (two men in Matthew) in the territory of Gadarenes (Gerasenes).

Jesus’ exorcism begins even before he actually meets the demonized. When Jesus does come face to face with the possessed man, the demon(s) within him is agitated and cries out in alarm “What have you to do with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!” (Mark 5:7, Luke 8:28). For he had ordered the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (It had taken hold of him many times, and he used to be bound with chains and shackles as a restraint, but he would break his bonds and be driven by the demon into deserted places.) (Luke 8:29)

The demon possessing the man is called “Legion,” because many demons had entered him. The demons plead with Jesus to allow them to enter into a herd of swine that was feeding there on the hillside. Jesus lets them; and the possessed herd of swine rush down the steep bank into the Sea of Galilee and are drowned.

4. Mark 9:14-29, Luke 9:37-43a and Matthew 17:14-20: An evil spirit possessing a boy causes him to be deaf and dumb and sometimes tries to harm him by throwing him into fire or water. Jesus exorcises the boy after his disciples tried unsuccessfully to do so.  Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out. He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up. (Mark 9:26-27)

Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:19-20)

5. Matt 9:32-34: Jesus heals a dumb demoniac; and when the demon was driven out the mute person spoke. The crowds were amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.  But the Pharisees said, “He drives out demons by the prince of demons.”

6. Luke 13:10-17: In a synagogue, on a Sabbath day, Jesus heals a crippled woman who was there for eighteen years. She was bent over by the evil spirit and was completely incapable of standing erect.

7. Mark 7:24-30, Matthew 15:21-28: The daughter of a woman who was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth (a Canaanite in Matthew) is possessed by an unclean spirit. Jesus heals the girl, but reluctantly, and says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” meaning that he has come to bring deliverance to the Jews, insofar as the benefits of the Kingdom of God belong to them – “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

8. Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2: Out of the women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary Magdalene is one out of whom Jesus cast seven demons.

9. Mark 3:20-22: Jesus himself is accused of being possessed. The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”

The saying about the ‘plundering of the strong man’ comes in the context of Jesus’ self-defence against the accusation that he casts out demons by the power of Beelzebul.  There are two different versions of the same tradition, quite dissimilar to each other: Mark 3:27 = Matt 12:29; Luke 11:21-22.

Matt 12:29
How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and steal his property, unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.
Mark 3:27
But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house.
Luke 11:21-22
When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils.

The Gospel of Thomas has a shorter version of this saying: “Jesus said, ‘One cannot enter a strong person’s house and take it by force without tying his hands. Then one can loot his house’.” (35)

So, all these different versions boil down to this: In order to plunder the house of a strong man one must be stronger than he is; only then can one carry away his goods.

Here, Jesus is speaking allegorically: the strong man is Satan and the house is his kingdom or sphere of influence. Jesus is telling that an entity stronger than Satan has come and is in the process of plundering his kingdom, which is an ambagious reference to himself. The booty taken by the stronger man represents those who were demonized but whom Jesus freed from Satan’s influence.

To recap, by the power Jesus has over demons, the reign of Satan is in the process of being replaced by the Kingdom of God.

Jim Reeves » Satan can’t hold me

When the trumpet has sounded and at judgement we stand
And the Lord, up in heaven, takes you by the hand
If for things I’ve done wrong I am sent down below
Satan can’t hold me this much I know

Satan can’t hold me, nobody can
Angel or devil, spirit or man
Through the valleys of darkness I’ll come to your side
Your love, my beacon, my love, my guide

I will climb over mountains, fly up in the blue
I’ll swim every river that keeps me from you
Till that wonderful day we’re together again
Satan can’t hold me, true love must win

Satan can’t hold me, nobody can
Angel or devil, spirit or man
Through the valleys of darkness I’ll come to your side
Your love, my beacon, my love, my guide

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