9 October 2019Matthew 12:22-32
‘But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.’ (v. 28)
Psalm: Psalm 73:1-14
"How did he do that?"
The question is at the heart of this story of healing and subsequent controversy. And it is not idle speculation. People’s lives and circumstances are being dramatically and decisively transformed by Jesus, so much so that only the language of spiritual powers and ultimate authority seems to do justice to what he is doing and who he is.
The accusation that is levelled at Jesus by his opponents is that malevolent forces are the source of his actions: what makes it possible for him to control and change the destructive and dark aspects of human experience. Beelzebul was a kind of slang-name for the arch-demon, or the devil. The word literally means ‘lord of the flies’ or ‘lord of filth’.
The alternative, of course, was that the source of Jesus’ capacity to change lives so utterly was the life and power of God. And if God is acknowledged to be the source of Jesus’ actions, then it must follow that God is at work in Jesus’ radical vision: his calling of outcasts; his reversals of who and what matter in God’s eyes.
Jesus’ opponents are questioning not just this healing, but everything he was doing. They are suggesting that the power and spirit behind all his words and actions is dark and demonic in order to undermine him and turn people away.
Jesus points out the logical contradiction in their suggestion: why would the forces of darkness and destruction undo their own work, in healing and setting people free? But it is Jesus’ final warning which has often worried people: the possibility an ‘unforgivable sin’ against the Holy Spirit (v. 32). Tom Wright offers a helpful perspective here. It’s important to keep the warning in its context, he says. If his opponents are suggesting that the transforming work of God is the work of the devil, Jesus’ warning is not that they won’t be forgiven, but that they can’t; they have cut themselves off from the source and possibility of forgiveness, which is part of the work of God’s kingdom.
- Are you troubled by the possibility that Jesus seems to raise in the story of an 'unforgivable' sin? Why/why not?
- Do you think Tom Wright is correct to suggest that human beings can ultimately shut ourselves off from God, so that we 'can't be forgiven'. Why/why not?