Wilful Blindness - Matthew 12:22-28
In the Third week of the month of Paope the church reminds us of the healing of the blind, mute, demon-possessed man.
When Jesus left the synagogue … it seems like then the whole world was offered to him in one man. He was a blind, mute man who neither saw nor spoke. Symbolically he neither recognised his Maker nor gave thanks to him. What was visibly done in the case of one man therefore could be understood to have significance for everyone. For really, if the Lord had not turned Judea aside, all the Gentiles would still be blind and mute in the power of the devil.
However what is striking in this account and what we should contemplate upon is the response of the Pharisees to this miracle.
The Gospel tells us that a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to Chris, and He healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. St Matthew’s brief description of this amazing display of power and compassion shows that his interest lies elsewhere. Its as if he wants us to focus on the response to the miracle rather than the miracle itself. Specifically the response of those who witnessed this miracle.
Well, what about the response to the miracle. Specifically, how do the Pharisees respond to this miracle? They explain it away. Look at verses 23-24.
"And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”
Matthew contrasts the response of “the people” with that of the Pharisees. The people respond with amazement! Even though Jesus doesn’t fit their expectations about the promised Messiah, they wonder: “Can this be the Son of David?” The people are open to following the evidence where it leads. And, in their mind, it seems to lead to the conclusion that Jesus is God’s promised Messiah. “But” – and here is the contrast – the Pharisees immediately ascribe Jesus’s power to Satan. Although the evidence shows that Jesus must have miraculous power, they explain the evidence away by insisting that his power is from Satan. And this wasn’t the first time the Pharisees made this charge (Matthew 9:32-34). So, the Pharisees respond to the evidence by explaining it away.
But why is their rejection of the evidence wilful blindness? The Pharisees rejection of the evidence is wilful blindness because it makes no sense. This can be seen in Christ's response to them in verses 25 & 26:
"But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?"
Jesus usually responds to the Pharisees by quoting Scripture. But here, he appeals to their basic logic: It makes no sense that Satan would cast out Satan. Think about any kingdom or city or house – none of these can flourish where there is inner division and strife. The Pharisees in responding were proposing a ridiculous explanation to the evidence of the miracle they witness.
Furthermore, Jesus says to them even if we say – for the sake of argument – that I cast out demons by Satan, then by whom do your sons cast them out?” That’s why Jesus says, “they will be your judges.”
St John Chrysostom contemplates on this and tells us "“If Satan casts out Satan, he is then divided against himself.” But if he is divided, he is becoming weaker and being ruined. And if he is ruined, how can he cast out another? Do you see how great is the joke9 of the accusation, how great the folly, the inconsistency? It is not plausible that one would be said to stand by that which was likely to cause one to fall."
The only conclusion that makes sense is that it is by God’s authority that Jesus casts out demons. And so he says in verse 28, “iBut if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” So, the coming of the kingdom of God is seen in Jesus’s defeat of the demons.
St John Chrysostom continues and says "Jesus said not simply “the kingdom is come” but in a personal sense “to you.” It is as though he had said, “Good things have come specifically to you, so why then do you feel so displeased that you are being wonderfully blessed? Why do you make war against your own salvation? This is that very time which the prophets long ago foretold. This is the sign of that advent which was expected by them. Even these things now are being accomplished by divine power. You yourselves know that they are happening. That is a fact. But that they are being accomplished by divine power, you do not realize, so the deeds themselves cry out. It is impossible that Satan should be the stronger power now, for he must of necessity be weaker. For it cannot be that one who is weak can, as though strong, cast out the strong man, the devil.”
So why is the Pharisees rejection of the evidence wilful blindness? It’s wilful blindness because their alternative explanation makes no sense. unfortunately we do this too, how many times do we make excuses for ourselves that make no sense ! how many times do we explain our actions with explanations that make no sense... how many times do we wilfully blind ourselves!!!
This wilful blindness St Cyril tells us occurs as a result of "our won voluntary indolence" that is our own laziness which results in our slavery to satan. this is why a few verses later, Christ makes the choice clear, in verse 30 St Matthew reminds us “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus warns that ultimately there is no neutrality. Indifference to Jesus is the same as opposition. Wilful blindness may be overt opposition as with the Pharisees or the passive indifference as with people either way Jesus says, “whoever is not with me is against me.”
Are with or against Christ?
Glory be to God forever - Amen.