Midweek Faith Lift
May 4, 2022
The Parable of the Strong Armed Man
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
The Power of My Words
“No worries, at the end of the day, and you're on mute” are some of the phrases that folks have heard enough. They appear on the Banished Words List offered by Lake Superior State University. The phrases that make the list each year are considered overused to the point of uselessness. That being said, I fear the words have become the new normal. (I would at “It is what it is” to this list)
“The pupil asked the Rabbi, ‘Why does the Torah tell us to 'place these words upon our hearts, rather than in our hearts?' The Rabbi answered, ‘Because our hearts are closed, so we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, our heart breaks and the words fall in.’" – Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness
Affirmative prayer: Today, I am mindful of the power of the words that are in my heart and that come out of my mouth. My words echo what I believe. They are affirmative prayers that set the course of my living. Today, I speak with spiritual insight. I affirm the goodness, beauty, and abundance of life. Thank you, God, forever. Amen.
The power of our words is at the heart of the Parable of the Strong-Armed man, which is the next parable in our series from The Hidden Parables by Todd Michael. For a quick review, when we last spoke together of the parables, we explored the Parable of the Two Debtors, which was all about forgiveness. The lesson was about the essential energy and necessity of forgiveness for our spiritual growth. The other important message is that the more someone has hurt or offended you, the more urgent the need for forgiveness. The power is in giving something positive, something of love and healing for all the ill will that has come your way.
Now we are at the Parable of the Strong-Armed Mans and this is how the story reads in Matthew:
Jesus and Beelzebul
22 Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. 23 All the crowds were amazed and said, “Can this be the Son of David?”
24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.”
25 He knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?
27 If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges.
28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered. (NRSV)
What an interesting story! What Dr. Todd Michael says is that this story is about the “Law of Good.” In this story, Jesus is affirming what we say every Sunday, “There is only One Presence and One Power in the Universe, God the Good…” How is that so? Well, in the time of Jesus as well as in our current time, there was a very strong belief in the devil, or Beelzebul or Satan as an actual entity or power. If you believe that, then you believe there are two powers, the power of Good or God and the power of Evil or Satan. In the passage above, Jesus very subtly and powerfully debunks the myth of Satan by asking a powerful question. How is that?
Well, the Pharisees in this story accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of evil, or Satan. And Jesus just follows the logic by asking if Satan casts out Satan then how will his kingdom survive. The belief was that if people were blind and mute and demonic, then it was the work of Satan. It therefore makes no sense that Satan is the power by which the demons are removed. Jesus also makes the powerful statement that “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste”…it cannot stand, it does not survive. Us v Them is a no win situation and ultimately deadly for all.
Jesus heals this man through the power of Love, the Power of God, which does not create these polarities, these divisions. And it is in affirming the wholeness, the absence of these that Jesus casts out the demons that keep us blind, mute and filled with thoughts that harm us. Each one of us can be a “kingdom divided against itself” and it is in the power of Love, the Spirit of God, that we are made whole rather than perishing in unending internal conflict. But more about that in a bit.
For right now, you say, and rightly so, there is so much conflict in the world today, how is it that evil has no power, that evil is not real? Well Dr. Michael’s explanation is that something that appears to be “evil” is disordered, that’s all. He describes it as “entropy” or mechanical chaos. What is entropy? It is the “tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to evolve toward a state of inert uniformity” or “the inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society.” (p, 57) The Hidden Parables. We can see entropy in motion in our culture right now, in the January 6 Capitol insurrection which ultimately disintegrated. Many of our systems appear to be disintegrating right now.
What purpose then does this entropy or process of disintegration serve? It is useful in seeing what appears to be evil as just part of a process of disintegration. It is the “Divine Chaos” out of which a new Divine Order is able to emerge. If the word integrity means wholeness or “of one mind” then this process of “disintegration” happens when we are divided against ourselves, we are in conflict within ourselves. In psychology, we speak of the “shadow” or dark side of our human nature and we sometimes can believe that we are that shadow self and see ourselves as living in that energy and we see others living there as well.
However, the meaning of the word “evil” in Aramaic is immature or unripe. The greater reality is that there is both shadow and light, but our shadow is not an actual entity. I think of Peter Pan, the boy who didn’t want to grow up and he was upset because he had lost his shadow. It is such a powerful truth that when we don’t want to grow up, to learn to think and take responsibility for our own actions, we are like Peter Pan, we want to make sure we have our shadow! And sometimes we call that “the devil!” However, stop and realize that it is only when we have the light that the shadow is present. So all of our “growth opportunities” on both an individual and collective level, allow us to see what misguided ideas we have and to literally “see the light!”
Hence the opening story about the trite clichés we can hold onto in our thought processes. This takes us right to the heart of the matter, and that is the internal conflict we all have about who we are, how we are, and what we really believe about ourselves. What does our “self-talk” say to us about ourselves and about others? What is the chatter in your mind? The message of this Parable of the Strong Armed Man is really to pay attention to what you are thinking and saying and to take charge of those thoughts and self-statements. We all have the “inner committee” that speaks to us about our defects, even before we know it! Just spend several days in Silence at a retreat and you will quickly hear what the demons of that committee are saying to you, in you, and as you! Whew!!
The first time I did that I could hardly stand it and I wanted to get out of there ASAP. I did not realize I was entering the house or consciousness of the strong-armed one, which really is my ego when it is “Edging God Out!” When you and I are exceedingly hard on ourselves, engaging in shame and blame of self and others, then we are truly in the clutches of the “strong-armed man.” And it often can take quite a while to hear and see what we are doing to self and others with our internal self-talk. We cannot see the impact it has on our lives until, like Jesus, we cast out the demons—think committee--- in the name of Love and Light. Then we experience true freedom, true spiritual growth, one step at a time, one day at a time, and one situation at a time!
We really want to plunder our house, our consciousness of non-productive thoughts and ideas. We really want our ego to serve the higher good, to be strong in the way that instead of “Edging God Out” we are truly able to “Embrace God’s Order.” We place words of love and self-acceptance on our hearts as the Rabbi said and when our hearts break open, those loving words just fall right in! May it be so…
Blessings on the Path,