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Jesus and Beelzebul

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Lk 11:15-26
[After Jesus had driven out a demon that was mute,] 15some of [the crowd] said, “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” 16Others, to test him, asked him for a sign from heaven. 17But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. 18And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that it is by Beelzebul that I drive out demons. 19If I, then, drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own people drive them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20But if it is by the finger of God that [I] drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21When a strong man fully armed guards his palace, his possessions are safe. 22But when one stronger than he attacks and overcomes him, he takes away the armor on which he relied and distributes the spoils. 23Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

24“When an unclean spirit goes out of someone, it roams through arid regions searching for rest but, finding none, it says, ‘I shall return to my home from which I came.’ 25But upon returning, it finds it swept clean and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings back seven other spirits more wicked than itself who move in and dwell there, and the last condition of that person is worse than the first.”

THE STRONGER MAN: The “Beelzebul controversy” is common in the Synoptic gospels (Mk 3:22-30; Mt 12:22-32). That Jesus is accused of a demonic power is deeply rooted in the gospel tradition. His success in exorcism prompts the accusation that he is in league with Beelzebul.

In response, Jesus tells the parable of a strong man. The imagery speaks of a military conquest: the strong man guards his palace. The Roman emperors and even the Herodian rulers thought of their domain as “households” over which they hold eminent dominion—over all the property and the bodies of their subjects.

The strong man is Beelzebul, the prince of demons. He is also identified as Satan. He reigns over his palace (kingdom) with demons as agents. He is a strong, dark power who holds sway over human beings. But Jesus is the stronger man. His battle with Satan is reminiscent of Old Testament images of God armed as a hero battling his enemies (Is 59:16-18). The new era that Jesus inaugurates marks the beginning of the end of Satan’s power. Jesus is God’s agent who, with the power of God’s word, vanquishes Satan at their initial encounter (Lk 4:1-13) and at the passion, where his humble obedience in suffering conquers Satan’s pride.