Homily for Oct. 7th, 2016: Luke 11:15-26.
At the start of today’s gospel Jesus has just given back the power of speech to a man unable to speak, probably from birth. People in those days attributed a condition like that, indeed all illness, to demons. This is reflected in the opening words of today’s gospel: “Jesus had driven out a demon.” Usually those who witness Jesus’ healings are amazed. Here they say, in effect: ‘That’s no big deal.’ Some ascribe Jesus’ ability to heal to his having entered into a pact with the demons who cause illness. Others demand that Jesus show them a sign more dramatic than a mere physical healing: a “sign from heaven,” they call it.
The gospels record this demand for a sign in a number of places: some proof so dramatic that it will compel belief. But belief cannot be compelled, any more than love can be compelled. Jesus’ most dramatic sign was the empty tomb of Easter morning. That did not compel belief in anyone. The only people who believed in the risen Lord were those who had known and believed in Jesus before his resurrection. And even they were initially skeptical. The one exception was the man called in the gospel that bears his name, John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Upon entering the empty tomb this disciple “saw and believed,” John’s gospel tells us (20:8). The others came to believe only after seeing the risen Lord.
Jesus’ closing words about an unclean spirit returning to a house that has been cleansed with seven other even worse spirits tells us that it is not enough to banish bad habits. We must develop good ones. Here is an example. A parent confesses being impatient with the children. The priest gives this advice.
"Don’t bother with making fist-clenching resolutions not to lose your temper with your children. Resolve instead that when you do lose your temper, you’ll be looking for an opportunity as soon as possible to show your children that there is a more loving side to Mummy or Daddy. Praise or thank the children, for instance, for doing something well, no matter how small it may be. In other words, don’t try to pull up all the weeds in your life – your bad habits, weaknesses, and sins. That will never work. Concentrate instead on sowing flowers – the virtues."