This passage from Luke points us to a great paradox in the Christian life: the more we make progress in the life of faith, the more we realize we have failed. There is more progress in the sense of failure, than in feelings of success.
It’s probably not possible for us to hear these words of Jesus quite the way first century folk did, with all the talk about Beelzebul and the demons. But “demons”, metaphorically speaking, is something we can all relate to: fear, selfishness, contempt for others, hatred, pride, impatience… We all have our favorite “demons”—or if not our favorites, our familiars: the ones who keep coming to take up residence in the house we thought we had cleaned so thoroughly. When we think we might have rid ourselves of one “demon”, perhaps by the cultivation of some virtue, we discover others have come to take its place. A kind of false pride that entices us into judgment of others is perhaps one of the more persistent “demons” of those making “progress” on the way.
It’s an ongoing wrestling match with one “demon” or another in the life of faith. And we are, indeed, transformed—we do make progress in the spiritual life, we are caught up in a process of ongoing conversion—in Christ, into Christ.
But genuine progress comes in recognizing failure. We only advance when we realize we have failed. We only pass if we realize we’ve flunked. The most advanced level in the school of Christianity is remedial first grade. It’s always back to the basics…