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Mark 3:20-35

Pentecost 3, June 9, 2024

Holy Trinity Cathedral

“Conflict in the House”


First off: I didn’t choose the scripture readings.  All the bible passages assigned for this third Sunday after Pentecost deal with conflict and power: whether it is within a nation, within a church group, or within a family.  And for all of us who have the experience of dysfunctional relationships, there is a measure of comfort in the knowledge that Jesus had a tough time with his family too.  Even in his own home, the finger gets pointed.  He is crazy.  He is evil. He is unclean.  Those who fear for him or fear him get drawn into demonizing his behaviour.  But he chooses to stand in love so that God’s family may be restored.


Up to a point, Jesus’ family have tried to be supportive of his public ministry.  After all, it’s nice to have a rabbi teaching others, unlike his weird cousin John that is running around in the desert wearing camel hair baptizing sinners.  But there are limits.  With every sermon and healing, Jesus is coming into greater conflict with the religious authorities.  He’s hanging out with an unlikely bunch of disciples instead of working with his dad and showing up for dinner.  And when he does come home, there’s a crowd that follows him right up to the doorstep.  His family, says the text, goes out to restrain him.  They attempt to put a stop to his troublemaking, to pull him away from his mission.  Maybe they fear for his safety.  Maybe they fear for their own if they are identified with him by authorities.  Either way, they decide that Jesus “has gone out of his mind”.  In the ancient world, that means they believe he has become possessed by demons.  Time for a family intervention. 


Jesus’ kin are not the only ones who see him as crazy, evil, and unclean.  The religious leaders called scribes have come down from Jerusalem to see for themselves.  They declare that “he has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of demons he casts out demons.”  In other words, evil possession has taken over his body and is now doing the work of Satan through him.  Even if what he is doing is disguised as healing, it is really only little demons running away from the larger demon inside him.  With both his family and his faith declaring war on him, Jesus is no longer safe in his home. 


”Home” has layers of meaning here.  First, it means the house Jesus grew up in, the family home, where he is no longer welcome.  Secondly, it has to do with his cultural home.  Jerusalem is the City of David and the Temple is the House of David.  The authorities who fear his teaching see it as an attack on the institution of the Jewish faith and the legacy of kingship for the people of Israel.  Jesus and his message are not welcome in this house either.  When the religious people accuse Jesus of being taken over by the Satanic name Beelzebul in particular, they are making a further point.  Beelzebul can mean “Lord of the Dwelling”, the one who makes his home with the unfortunate soul who falls to his power.  They are saying that the power of evil has displaced any good that people have attributed to Jesus. 


“Nonsense”, Jesus responds.  “How can Satan cast out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  And if Satan rises up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand” (Mark 3:24-26).  Jesus. Houses, whether they are family homes, religious institutions, or monarchies, will be torn apart from within when different parts go to war against each other.  Only when something stronger comes from outside the house can what is evil inside be overcome. 


Jesus tells a mysterious parable about a “strong man”.  No one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”  This proposed break and enter job has two goals.  The first is to bind the one who has control of the house.  The second is to take what is under the strong man’s control.  Now, who is the strong man?  If we read him as Jesus, this a challenge to the religious authorities to come and try to stop him from his mission.  They are doomed to fail in their attempts to demonize him because God will prove that he is stronger than their attempts to plunder his word.


Alternately- and I believe this is the stronger possibility- Jesus could be casting the strong man as Satan.  He is then in the role of the one who is called to go into the house that Satan has taken control of, to render him powerless, and rescue all that has been previously taken by him.  If the religious authorities do not see that the Holy Spirit is working within him to redeem the world, then they have fallen guilty of the ultimate sin.  After all, in saying “he has an unclean spirit”, they have denied God’s power to heal.  They have cast Jesus’ power as demonic instead of coming from God.   In order to save the house from the bonds of evil, Jesus has to bring holy love into the dwelling. 


This is a love that goes beyond kinship ties and beyond the rules of the Law.  In the last scene of this passage, Jesus declares that his real family is not based on who he is physically related to, but who follows the will of the One who sent him to heal the world.  His true Father is God.  His true mother and brother and sister are the ones gathered with him.  A chosen family able to see the good he brings to their lives. 


There are times when help needs to comes from outside our own household.  It may be our family in crisis, or our church struggling with issues, or our nation choosing a path forward.  There is love and commitment up to a point, but sometimes we get pushed beyond that point by our frustration and our fear and our hurt.  Who is able to rescue us from the evil that leads us to fight with each other?  If we do not believe there is a way, we are committing that very sin against the Holy Spirit that Jesus talks about.  We deny God the power to heal.  Instead, let us turn to the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and pray:

Goodness is stronger than evil

Love is stronger than hate

Light is stronger than darkness 

Life is stronger than death 

Victory is ours through Him who loves us.