24 October 2011

"But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you." (v. 20)


The phrase "the finger of God" was how Pharaoh's magicians described the plague of gnats and flies brought by Moses and Aaron in Exodus 8:19. Using this phrase, Luke's Gospel makes parallels between the exorcism Jesus did and the kingdom of God, and the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. This means that the kingdom of God involves liberation from things that enslave people and nations, and that it is already coming.

Exorcism was very much a part of common culture in Jesus' day, and part of the early Church. What is at issue in today's passage is not exorcism itself, but the source of Jesus' authority to free someone from a demon. Jesus did not appeal to Jewish tradition, to the Covenant, or to Yahweh, but cast demons out in his own authority. Jesus did not behave like other exorcists who might use complicated spells or rituals, invoking many different gods. So it is understandable that the people asked from where he got his power.

Beezlebul is the name of a local Syrian deity worshipped in the area. The same local god is also called Baal 'Lord of the heavenly house' in some texts of similar age. Sometimes the name is given as Beezlebub, a corruption of the original which means 'Lord of the flies', but they all refer to the same being.

In the passage some people accuse Jesus of working as an agent of Beezlebul, associated with Satan. Jesus' uses simple logic to dismiss this charge: why would Satan want to work against his own helper, the mute demon? But this is not his central point, however. Jesus wants people to see that his authority does not come from any trick or magic, but from God. He wants people to see the exorcism as a sign of the larger kingdom of God.

Jesus also wants people to have a sense of urgency, being vigilant to respond and keep watch when they see signs of the kingdom. This is the purpose of the last section of today's passage, about the 'demons' being attracted to a house that is in good order.

To Ponder

The sense of demonic possession was part of the culture of Jesus' age. Some cultures have a sense of it today. Regardless of this, what are the other cultural equivalents in our common UK culture that bind or inhibit people? And what do you think might be ways to overcome this?

How do you expect your life to change, through going to church (and otherwise)?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

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