The Curmudgeon


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Matthew 12 xliii-xlv

Jesus recounts the fate of a demon which is cast out, and wanders through waterless places seeking rest and finding none. Eventually the demon decides to return to the place from whence it came. Finding that place clean and tidy, the demon invites its friends along, and the person who was originally exorcised ends up worse off than before.

Spoken in the context of the Pharisees' request for a sign, this anecdote is another swipe at those who keep the law yet lack the credulity and fanaticism required in the kingdom of heaven. It is remarkable for the casual contempt which Jesus displays towards those He claims to have healed: He implies that He has been cleasing the possessed in the full knowledge that His cure will achieve nothing more than leaving them vulnerable to even worse possessions.

Given that Jesus proclaims His ability to cast out devils as a proof of His divine authority (Luke 13 xxxi-xxxii), His coyly cynical admission that His exorcisms are pure snake-oil throws an intriguing light on the rest of His ministry. The possibility that Satan may be divided against himself is hardly made more plausible by the Saviour's image of demons turning every exorcised person into a housing co-operative; and if Jesus by the finger of God merely makes the demons' accommodation more comfortable, what profiteth it anyone if they allow themselves to be cleansed?

Concerning the final state of Mary Magdalene, who apparently suffered the worse-than-useless process no less than seven times over (Luke 8 ii), we can only speculate. All four gospels agree that this poor demon-ravaged creature was either the first, or one of the first, to see the empty tomb of Jesus; and the implication that by the end of the Saviour's ministry she was playing hostess to a horde of devils gives us an interesting perspective on her position as a witness. Depending how many demons were in residence at the time, it is certainly possible that Joanna, Salome and the rest, being no doubt neatly-swept rooms in their own right, were each ripe for occupation by one or more of Mary Magdalene's tenants. From the women, the demons could then quite easily have spread into some or all of the other disciples, bringing upon them all kinds of mischievous delusions and hallucinations, and thus providing a more than usually plausible origin for their testimony regarding the Resurrection.


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