Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. (Luke 11:14, NIV)
My son, Luc, is on the autism spectrum. His mother and I are also convinced he has a condition called apraxia of speech. Basically, his brain and the muscles that produce speech do not connect in the way they do for most of us. In Jesus’ day, he would have been called mute.
In Luke, the word here that is translated “mute” is used in two other places.
The angel Gabriel strikes Zechariah mute in Luke 1 because he does not believe the good news of the impending birth of his son. In Luke 7, Jesus tells John’s disciples to report what they see of Jesus’ healing as testimony to who Jesus is. In this second example the word is translated “deaf” rather than “mute,” reminding me that in the Bible there are a whole collection of words that have overlapping meanings and the careful distinctions we make in our medical language were not important.
For these and other reasons, contemporary theology advises us not to connect medical problems with spirits or demons. As a child of the 20th century, I am inclined to go along with that advice.
But I’d be lying to say I do not feel at times that my son is under attack from an evil spirit that robs him of his voice. And what I am struck with in those times is how remarkably resilient he is. As I’ve said to many people, if I had to cope with the challenges he does, I’d be angry all the time. He is a model of contentment, peace, and joy nearly all the time.
I confess to not know what to make of Scripture passages such as the one above or how they relate to my son. I am conscious, though, of the impulse to read past them. In 2014, in America, we often want to ignore talk of spirit and demons and devils — especially when they are connected to matters our medical science explains. But Luc keeps me from doing that. Indeed, he makes those verses stand out in sharp relief. He forces me to see what I would not otherwise see, even if I do not yet understand.