The Thumb of God: Meditation for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

cast out demonThe Gospel of Luke relates many fascinating events encountered by Jesus on his final journey to Jerusalem for Passover in A.D. 30. On one occasion recorded in Luke 11, Jesus was casting out a particularly troublesome demon. This evil spirit had caused its host to become mute, unable to speak. It must have been a notorious situation, because when the man is delivered and begins to speak, Luke tells us the crowd was amazed.

So amazed that they grasp at straws to find an explanation. Someone offers a plausible answer, although one that is dead wrong. This person suggests that Jesus has power over the demons because he is in league with the prince of demons, an entity known as Beelzebul. Others aren’t quite so sure, but ask Jesus to provide even bigger proof of his power, wanting a “sign from heaven.” We are not sure what this might be, perhaps a summoning thunderbolt or making the sun disappear, but Jesus does not take the bait. His demon busting ministry is not really for them. It is to relieve the suffering of the unfortunate man who was unable to speak.

In some ways, this encounter is representative of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, even his entire ministry. The amount of miracles necessary to bring everyone to faith is a bottomless pit. Miracles like driving out demons cannot be understood without the recognition of divine power at work. If we fail to recognize the presence of God or refuse to believe in God’s activity, we must either concoct a ridiculous implausibility to explain it away or we must be insatiable in our demands for evidence. Today, as it was for Jesus, some look at him and respond with faith and love. Others reject with distrust and slander.

Jesus responds with dramatic language. He makes quick work of the Beelzebul theory, and offers this observation:

If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20)

The Greek word translated “finger” (δάκτυλος) does not have the distinctions our word “finger” does, because it refers to the digits of the hand, all five of them. It could be translated the “thumb of God,” and I think this gets the sense better. It is not God’s finger wagging at you for unbelief. It is God’s thumb pressing on you, pushing you, not letting you run away from a decision of faith.

For those of you who have joined with Jesus, Luke, and me as we make our way to Jerusalem and its cross during this Lenten season, may we not be relieved of the pressure of the thumb of God. May it not pressure us into decisions we should not make, but help us confront our doubts and believe even more strongly. May we never forget that we live in the presence of the living God, under his reign, in his kingdom. Our road to Jerusalem may be filled with the miraculous or it may not. Let us not demand or even seek signs, but be amazed at the Savior who drives out demons and saves our souls.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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