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Robert Farrar Capon on Luke 11:14-28 (Lent 3)

by pastorjuhl ~ February 27th, 2013

(Jesus’) parabolic retort (“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, etc.”) seems at first to be saying little more than, “If the devil is behind this , how come he’s fighting against himself?” But what Jesus really seems to be getting at, once again, is the inability of the world to straighten itself up by any kind of reasonable, sensible action, human or angelic. “If you’re going to play that Beelzebul game,” he says in effect, “all you’ll ever succeed in doing is discrediting even the minor cures you yourselves are able to perform. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
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It is by the Holy Spirit, the presiding genius of the Gospel – the one who takes of the left-handed work of Jesus and shows it to us – that Jesus does what he does. And what he does is raise the dead. His power is not from this plausible, perishing world, nor is it from the prince of this hopelessly divided kingdom. It is from himself in the death and resurrection by which alone the true kingdom comes. “The world,” he says in effect (Luke 11:21ff.), “is full of strong-arm, right-handed types; but when the stronger, left-handed arm comes, it takes away all the armor in which the world trusted and divides the spoils of its plausible efforts. He who is not with me, therefore, is against me; and he who does not gather with me [in the field of my death, and there only] scatters.” And then, in a solemn warning , he sums up his case: “When the unclean spirit [which I take to mean the plausible spirit of right-handed action] has gone out of a man, it travels through waterless places looking for a place to rest, but it doesn’t find one.”

Think about that. We have seen, perhaps, the light of the Gospel. We have realized that it is in our lastness, lostness, leastness, littleness, and death – and not in the chewing-gum and baling-wire contraptions of our lives – that we are saved. But that left-handed truth is hard to hold onto, and so by and by, when the unclean spirit returns, it finds us empty, swept, and put in order by the new broom of Jesus’ death. And what does it do? It goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than mere right-handed action: it finds ways of standing the Gospel itself on its head. It takes prayer- prayer that was meant to be a standing in Jesus’ death – and turns it into right-handed spiritual exercises. It takes forgiveness of sins – forgiveness that can come only by death and resurrection -and turns it into a reward for plausible, convincing repentance. It takes, in short, the grace of God that works by raising the dead and converts it into a transaction available only to those with acceptable lives. And so seven – or seven hundred – spirits enter and dwell in us, and our last state is worse than the first.

It is the old, sad story of the errant tendencies of doctrine-producing minds. The saving truth has been gladly found, and then disastrously lost, over and over and over. In spite of it all, though, Jesus’ power does not come through anything here except death. Unless we can be content to sit quietly in that clean, empty room, all the evils of the world will come, tracking their reasonable, hopeless grime back in. Our strength, like the strength of the Stronger One who saved us, is literally to sit still.

Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, pages 227-229

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