Saturday, July 18, 2009

How can Satan cast out Satan?

and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘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 has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

- Mark 3:19b-35

In this passage, we're given a taste of what the reality of the Kingdom is all about. This is a spiritual reality. One cannot escape from this.

Jesus is casting out demons - his reputation for healings and exorcism has gone so far abroad that even going home the crowd follows him. But it seems that this action of the crowd disrupts everything at home. And his family are rather beside themselves. They don't seem to understand what is going on. They, too, have not seen him in his role of public preacher, healer, exorcist. Everybody begins speaking about Jesus as if he is a crazy person. His family tries to restrain him, because, we're told, people are saying that he's out of his mind. The scribes who've come from Jerusalem - obviously because of Jesus' reputation, to see for themselves - pronounce that he casts out demons by Beelzebul (in other NT versions, "Beelebub"). Beelzebub/Baal translates "prince of the dungheap" or "prince of the flies" and refers to a god worshipped by the Philistines. Here he's called "the ruler of the demons."

But Jesus makes the point that the demons do not cast one another out - they do not fight one another, otherwise the demonic power could not stand. It is only by binding up the ruler (whom Jesus calls Satan) of the house that one can destroy it and plunder his goods. Jesus works by divine power of another kingdom. Jesus is making very clear that this is a spiritual reality to deal with. The Kingdom to which he refers and to which he invites all through the good news he's preaching is one that rules through the power of the Spirit. We worship for a reason. Indeed Jesus goes so far in defending this kingdom and its power that he makes a very strong pronouncement: that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. In other words, the work of the Spirit, which these people already know through scripture (indeed, the scribes are the experts), must not be impugned by claiming it is something other than what it is. To label the work of the Spirit as that of evil is blasphemy.

So, we are given an understanding here that it is a particular spiritual reality that we are to perceive in the work of this kingdom, and that we are responsible for this understanding ourselves. We worship for a reason, we approach a spiritual life for a reason. It is not just a question of intellectual or philosophical decision for "good." It requires discernment: the Pharisees and scribes also believe they are doing good by defending their practices, and fighting Jesus. Furthermore, judgment is based upon how we approach this reality of the kingdom, and whether or not we choose to participate in it and receive its good news. My study bible says this is a question of, more than anything else, "hardness of heart."

Finally, Jesus' mother and brothers are trying to see him. The crowds are so great who've come to listen to him preach that they stand outside, trying to get in to see him. When Jesus is told of their presence, he replies, referring to the crowd, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.' This is not an insult to his family, but rather a further validation of the reality of the Spirit and the relationship that it confers to those who choose to participate in this kingdom. For Jesus, his brother and sister and mother is anyone who choose also to accept that Spirit, to live as a part of that kingdom. Everyone is gathered around this spiritual reality, and all that is done in Its name creates relatedness, His family. We are joined in that place where relatedness becomes the vine and its branches.

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