“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” [Keep Reading]
The prophet Isaiah laments,
Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)
Surely these words came to mind for Jesus.
In the text we’re tackling this month, Jesus is accused of being “out of his mind”…and worse. The scribes accuse Jesus of being Beelzebul, a demon who casts out other demons. Jesus absorbs the deadly accusation and turns it into a teachable moment. That alone is worth a lifetime of reflection.
Jesus asks his accusers, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” It’s a rhetorical question. He can’t.
To illustrate what Jesus is getting at, imagine for a moment that violence and Satan is the same thing. The logic of violence is fairly simple; if you hit me then I hit you back harder in hopes that my punch will put an end to the fight. We call this The Myth of Redemptive Violence.
In other words, we use violence to cast out violence somehow thinking we are doing the right thing. It’s like Satan casting out Satan. It seems good, perhaps even necessary in the moment. But using violence to cast out violence only begets more violence.
And we know from experience how dangerous it is when violence escalates. When this happens, we instinctively look for scapegoats. Why? Because scapegoats function like a pressure release valve. They ease the escalating violence for a while until the pressure builds again, which it always does.
Using violence to cast out violence is like a house divided. In the end, it falls. Yes, evil carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. It’s just a matter of time before it caves in on itself. Of course, the problem (and it’s a big one) is that there is an enormous amount of damage that can be done between now and then. Our cities and the most vulnerable are living proof.
So, we have Jesus accused of the very thing that the scribes are doing, but are blind to. They are convinced they are doing good, while scapegoating Jesus. The whole thing is ludicris. Who is out of their mind here? Who is using violence to cast out violence? Who is Satan (which means accuser)? Whose house will fall?
I hate to admit it, but none of us are immune to what’s happening in this text. We are all caught up in the cycle of violence to which we are blind. Our lives and history are filled with examples of things we thought were good in the moment…only to discover later how much harm they do. Is there any of us who has not staked out a position, relationally, theologically, or politically, convinced of its goodness and defended it come hell or high water, even when it does harm to others?
Even in the worst atrocities perpetrators genuinely believe they are doing good. Yes, evil’s favorite hiding place is righteousness. In fact, the primary power of evil is derived from its ability to masquerade itself as good. Think Lucifer, “the light bearer.”
And who of us has not succumbed to the temptation to blame certain communities as though cursed, only to discover that they are the very blessing of God?
The good news in this week’s passage is hidden in the way Jesus responds to his accusers. He does not return violence for violence. In effect, he forgives and urges them to receive the forgiveness he offers.
Jesus makes it clear. There’s really only one way out of the cycle of violence. We must undergo forgiveness. In doing so, we suffer the loss of our illusions and come face to face with our participation in the evil we so desperately want to project elsewhere. And this is the clue to the meaning of Jesus’ cryptic statement about the unforgivable sin. Yes, the one thing God cannot forgive is our refusal to be forgiven. To refuse forgiveness is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit and be possessed by our own accusing voice. That is a living hell.
Imagine if the identity of the Church were simply and solely that we are a community undergoing forgiveness, and the price of admission is the desire to be a part of such a community. Imagine that! Such a community would let go of its false claim to the moral high ground (as if our witness to the world has ever been in our moral superiority). Instead, our identity would be what it’s always been—a people who are undergoing forgiveness. Perhaps then we can sort out the difference between good and evil.
Kris Rocke Executive Director | Street Psalms Tacoma, Wa