“Every kingdom divided against itself will fall” (Luke 11:16).
When Pope John XXII was beatified, the first step toward sainthood, the day assigned to honor him was originally October 11, marking the first day of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. St. John XXIII now watches over the church, and today’s Lectionary readings offer us a reflection on the importance of his leadership 50 years ago, now still present and at work in Pope Francis.
In today’s Gospel, Luke takes up the text he found in Mark about the underlying spiritual struggle between demonic control of the world and Jesus’ announcement of the coming of the Kingdom of God. This Marcan theme was brilliantly explored in Ched Myers’ 1988 book “Binding the Strong Man.” Its central thesis was that Jesus’ preaching, healing miracles and exorcisms were a sign that the “prince of demons” had already been defeated. Luke uses the image of a strong man guarding his house, which is broken into by a stronger man who binds him up and then despoils his possessions. Jesus is that stronger man. The rule of Satan has been shattered and God’s grace is loose in the world.
Jesus’ enemies acknowledged his remarkable power, but attributed it to Satan. Jesus dismisses their claim and its convoluted logic that he could use the power of Satan to overcome Satan. “A house divided against itself falls,” he replies. No, he has entered the world with the power of God.
One message is clear. The defeat of any pervasive force begins with going to the cause. A disease manifests many symptoms; heal the underlying illness and the symptoms disappear. An organization filled with dysfunction will not change unless its leadership is replaced. A culture based on distorted ideology or injustice must be attacked at the roots.
Jesus did not come just to encourage, heal, forgive and comfort people without also liberating them from the deeper causes of evil in the world. His redemption was a decisive strike at the roots of collective human sin. All that is needed to complete this gift of freedom and new life is for people to believe in it and live it. The strong man has been bound. Evil has no power over us except what we give it by falling under its deceptions and intimidation.
Hearing the Gospel in our lives opens us to this deep freedom. The church is itself a work in progress in announcing and living God’s reign of grace. New leadership is challenging the church from the top down and the bottom up to find the joy and freedom of the Gospel. All that is needed to complete this revolution is for every baptized member of the church to claim and live the redemptive love God has poured out on all of us. Holiness is God's gift. It was given to John XXIII and it is evident in Pope Francis. It is also at work in us if we open our lives to its guidance and power.