And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb.
And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils.
And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven.
But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.
If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? Because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub.
And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges.
But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God
is come upon you.
When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace:
But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.
He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.
The question of authority runs through the New Testament. Here, the bystanders suggest that Christ casts out devils by the authority of the Devil, a claim which Jesus shows to be nonsense through the image of the house divided against itself.
St Paul believed that his persecution of Christians was authorised by God, and only a revelation persuaded him otherwise. In January the Church of England consecrated the first woman bishop, giving women an authority which in the Anglican church was reserved for men. In 2008 the first Afro-American president was elected in the USA, a man whose forebears had been slaves.
Authority is not a constant. It shifts with time and culture. Our contemporary world is profoundly distrustful of authority in almost every form, and particularly of violent acts which claim to be perpetrated through the authority of religious faith.
Yet people recognised Jesus’s authority. The centurion who came to ask Christ to heal his servant (Matthew 8, 5-13), begged him only to say the word: “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth: and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” The centurion knows what authority is, and he recognises it in Jesus.
In Shakespeare’s King Lear the disguised Kent offers to serve Lear because “You have that in your countenance which I would fain call master. LEAR What’s that? KENT Authority” ( I.iv.29-32).
Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognise Jesus in the garden on the first Easter morning until he says her name. Then “she turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master” (John 20, 16).
We too can recognise Christ not in the abstract of an ideal and easily mistaken authority, but in the human being. Pope Francis has had an enormous impact because people respond to an innate authority in him. Where does it come from? It comes from the finger of God on the human being, the divine light which people saw in the incarnated Christ.