That Time Jesus Lost An Argument
Jesus was remarkably disinterested in proving himself right. Time and again, he missed opportunities to win arguments in favor of winning souls. One such episode jumped off the page at me this week.
Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
In this passage, Jesus' opponents assert that the source of his miraculous power is hell. This was the only position available to them. They had decided not to accept him as God, so they were forced to cast him as the devil. People offer the same response today. Once we make a cultural decision not to believe in miracles, then belief in a God of miracles is dangerous. Once we declare all morality relative, then believers in moral absolutes become "extremists."
What's remarkable about this passage is Jesus' response. It comes in two parts:
In the first part, Jesus explains how the Pharisees ought to rejoice if he is, indeed, a puppet of Satan. Jesus reasons that one of Satan's minions driving out other minions would amount to a hellish civil war, and would therefore be good news to the opponents of Satan, of whose number the Pharisees most certainly counted themselves. I have never been satisfied with this logic. Certainly it is true that infighting weakens a kingdom, but surely Jesus could have seen another meaning in the Pharisees' accusation. Couldn't Satan the deceiver stage mock exorcisms as a way to gain a following for his most powerful vassal? That is, in fact, exactly the kind of thing Beelzebub would do, and the Pharisees knew it. Jesus' logic, while sound, seems to miss the point.
The second part of Jesus' answer moves even farther from the argument. Basically, Jesus says, "Maybe you're right. Are you willing to bet eternity on it?"
Here's a wild paraphrase: Jesus says, "Ok, let's say you're right. Let's say these excorcisms I'm performing are a dog-and-pony show meant to lead the faithful astray. If we can assume that about me, without any proof, then why can't we assume the same about you? If any exorcist is subject to these allegations, then every exorcist must be. And you can offer scant proof as to the source of your power. So you may be right. I might be a demon, but that means you might be too. And that’s a problem for you.
"On the other hand, if I am not a demon, then your trouble is even worse. If my power doesn't come from hell, then it must come from heaven, and that means you have rejected God's Messiah. The kingdom of heaven has come upon you. And that’s a problem for you.
"Either way, I'm casting out demons, and you’ve got problems."
(Here endeth the wild paraphrase.)
Jesus is willing to be misunderstood, even disrespected. He isn't concerned with making sure people know he’s right. But he is very much concerned with bringing people to a point of decision about their faith. Jesus proclaims the truth more often than he defends it. He reveals more than he convinces. Jesus seems to say, "I don't need your agreement. You can win this argument. But the wager you're placing is your very soul."