The Rev. Andrew K. Barnett
Today’s Gospel: Luke 11:14–23
The author of Luke’s Gospel tells us, that “I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you” about the story of Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 1:3). Thus we have an orderly account: a birth narrative at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, a story of ‘tween- aged Jesus in the temple, a walking itinerary for Jesus and the disciples that (mostly) makes geographical sense, and a collection of Jesus’ teaching toward the middle of the Gospel. Luke sorted through oral traditions and at least two written documents to put the Jesus story on paper. But some of those teachings were jarring and hard to string together. To illustrate this point, consider the 11th chapter, from which today’s reading comes.
Chapter 11 begins with the Lord’s prayer, then we are encouraged to persevere in prayer, then Jesus casts out demons and the religious authorities wonder who said he could, then he’s asked for a sign, then he says not to hide your light under a bushel, and then he gets sassy with the Pharisees over dinner. All in one chapter! I wonder if Luke needed a parking lot for some of these stories, and then, later, the folks who select our Sunday Gospel readings chose to exclude some of the stranger ones. At any rate, here we are reading Luke in the middle of the week, and we find ourselves wrestling with a tough passage. Indeed this is one of the joys of daily engagement with Scripture: it seems these more obscure texts give us a window into Luke’s thinking.
If you’re puzzled by Jesus’ tussle with the demons, perhaps holding it in the context of Luke’s full Gospel throws a bit of light on today’s passage. In my reading, the essential question here is one of power; namely whether Jesus’ power comes from God, and what that would mean if it were true. The Pharisees wonder by whose power Jesus is able to cast out demons, and they taunt him by suggesting his power comes from the demons themselves. Jesus responds with a proposal for them to consider: either he casts out demons by demonic power, or by the power of God. He doesn’t answer the question, because he knows they’re laying traps for him like desperate poachers, but he wonders aloud, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Luke 11:20).
And that is the thesis of Luke’s Gospel, “The Kingdom of God has come to you.” This phrase becomes the subject of the Sermon on the Mount, and countless parables that begin “The Kingdom of God is like…” This Kingdom is more than just an idyllic vision. It is nothing short of God’s dream for the world, and it is particular, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). This Kingdom is the source of Jesus’ extraordinary power, and I still believe God’s dream can change the world. In a word, the dream is love.
A Prayer for Guidance
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what you would have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in your light we may see light, and in your straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 832).