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Tuesday of Oculi: Jesus the Stronger Man vs. the Strong Man of Self Justification

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In this passage we get a good example of Christ’s out-foxing His opponents. He nails them on a game sinners like to play, and that’s projection. What is projection? It’s the habit of “projecting” onto one’s opponents what the one himself is actually guilty of. Projection is a species of idolatry, insofar as idols themselves are projections of human desire. When we project our own guilt onto others, it’s a cathartic form of scapegoating, a sort of idolatry in the reverse. I worship what I desire by projecting onto an “other,” an idol. I reject those aspects of myself I don’t desire by projecting onto another “other,” a scapegoat.

But despite all the projecting, one ultimately cannot escape oneself. Jesus sees through the Self deceit and promises our own projections will judge us. We are who we are. And as we are, vying one aspect of our selves against another through our various projected idols and scapegoats, like chess pieces in a grand game of self justification. That house is destined to fall, a fissured Self that can’t stand.

So what are we getting at?

Jesus’ opponents claimed He cast out demons by Beelzebub. That’s their premise. The premise they establish is, “If you cast out demons, there is a good chance you’re doing it by the power of Beelzebub.” Well, Jesus points out to them, if that is your premise, then when you and your sons cast them out, the premise holds: you’re likely doing it by Beelzebub. You’re judging yourselves as being instruments of Satan.

And by Jesus using the expression “your sons,” He suggests this is an endemic problem of Israel, that it has fallen under the control of Satan. Several other passages make this clear: Jesus was not afraid to accuse the Jewish nation and religion of being satanic.

So Jesus exposes their game. They’re trying to project their own sin and rebellion onto Jesus, and thereby justify themselves. How often do we do this? How often are our fixations on others’ sins our elaborate way of justifying ourselves? Jesus may be addressing the same issue with his “log in the eye” teaching.

Ah, the log in the eye teaching. Reminds us of Oculi, “my eyes,” the name of this Sunday. The log blocks the eye of light, so we can’t see straight. Yesterday we discussed how naming something brings something to light, and in particular Jesus names for us those dark forces at work in our souls, what we might call “the Satan” and “the Beelzebub.” His teaching brings it to light, and sets the foundation for Himself to apply His more powerful name and overpower them.

So long as the log of “projecting guilt onto others to justify ourselves” is at work, we can’t see the true demonic darkness at work in our own souls. We can’t see how there’s only one way to deal with our guilt and our dying persons, and that’s through the Stronger Man.

Jesus’ opponents now have a problem on their hand. They have two options. First, they can double down on their premise and admit they cast out demons by Beelzebub. But who would want to do that? So Jesus offers them a way out. He offers Himself. And this is the second option, if it’s not be Beelzebub, then it must be by the finger of God. And if that’s the case, then the kingdom of God has come! Good news! You have in your midst a stronger man with the power to overthrow the strong man in your house!

Now, this poses a new interesting turn in the flow of the conversation that could put Jesus on the hot seat, had Jesus not taken the conversation into a certain direction. So, is Jesus laying the premise with His “house divided can’t stand” teaching that, if His opponents and their sons cast out demons, it must also be by the “finger of God”? Isn’t He laying down a premise as well, and could He run the risk of being trapped by it?

He would have, had He not said these words, “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters.” He basically says, “Yeah, if you are your sons are casting out demons, you’re on my team. You are instruments of the finger of God. You are workers in the Kingdom of God.”

But the key phrase is “with Me.” That’s the operative teaching. If they are “with Jesus,” and that’s literal, meaning, like the disciples, spatially with the physical Jesus, or connected to His Body, the Church, by use of His name, for where the name of Christ is, there His physical person is present, like that one person casting out demons in Jesus’ name the disciples were worried about. He was truly “with Jesus.”

But if they are not “with Jesus,” then all they do is scatter. Then yes, they are in fact casting out demons by Beelzebub, and yes, that house can’t stand. Well, that’s sort of the whole point of the Gospel, isn’t it, that Beelzebub loses his hold on the house because of the Stronger Man.  One assumes Jesus’ opponents went away, tortured by Jesus’ Word, realizing they set up the premise for Option A — that they cast out demons by Beelzebub — but realizing they can’t bear with Option B — that they must be “with Jesus.”

It’s just cool to see the Stronger Man at work, using His word to drive out the demons of Self-justification, and projection.

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