June 6, 2021 3rd Sunday After Pentecost Mark 3:19b-27, 31-35 “Binding the Strong One”
Then Jesus went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that he and his disciples could not even eat. 21 When Jesus’ family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And Jesus called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?
24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 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.
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters[a] are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
We have a very full service today, so my reflections on this gospel story will be brief. There is a lot going in this story. So here is my central take away: Be careful who you demonize. Be careful whose behaviors you try to restrain. Be careful who you try to bind. Be careful who you try to expel from proper society.
In Mark’s story, Jesus’ ministry has barely begun, but he has already touched and healed an unclean leper, although his religion prohibits physical contact with these contagious people. He has eaten with ostracized people who other more pious people think he shouldn’t break bread with. He has failed to observe a religious fast, although, it was the season for fasting. He has released people from the unclean spirit that have bound them, although, no religious or political institution has authorized him to do this. He has healed broken bodies on the sabbath, although some condemn this kind of work on the holy day set aside for rest.
Crowds are going after Jesus. Reaching out to for healing, begging for help. He is causing a stir in a minority religious community that is under tight surveillance by the Roman empire. The Romans are on the lookout for insurrectionists and Jesus is disrupting a society on edge. People are saying he is out of his mind. Religious leaders have joined forces with the local government to shut him down. The Temple scribes are demonizing Jesus, saying he is working for Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons. He is a threat to the powers that be, and to the false peace, the status quo, that these powers are working to maintain.
Be careful who you demonize. Be careful whose behaviors you try to restrain. Be careful who you try to bind. Be careful who you try to expel from so-called “proper” society. Jesus’ own family comes out to restrain him. Some interpreters of this story say that Jesus’ own family has turned against him. It could be. It does happen that families turn against their own blood kin. But in Bible study, we had a different sense of why Jesus’ family wants to restrain him. They haven’t turned against him. They have turned toward him in desperate love. He is on a dangerous path. He has provoked powerful people who want him gone.
In African American families, parents and grandparents make sure that their children and grandchildren hear “the talk” about how to behave in a majority white society in which African Americans are demonized. The instruction is to keep your head down. Behave with restraint. Always be polite. Always defer to the ones with power, even though you’ve done nothing wrong.
Jesus’ family wants to protect him. They want to prevent his being locked up or strung up or nailed up. They want to save his life. And Jesus wants to save the lives of others. He wants every person to be well—to have food, and shelter, and a community in which they are welcomed and embraced. A community in which they are treated with dignity and compassion as human beings created in God’s image.
Jesus won’t keep his head down or act with restraint where people are in pain. He won’t put up with things the way they are. He spars with the scribes who demonize him, saying he is in league with Beelzebul, working with Satan. He exposes their illogical thinking with his question: How can Satan cast out Satan? Why would Satan cast out Satan?
In Jesus’ time, Satan is a personification, the shorthand way of describing the evil forces, the destructive powers that deform us and our communities. In Mark’s gospel Satan is the strong man that Jesus speaks of. Satan is the name for the power that Holy Spirit has come to bind so that those who are trapped in his household can be freed and made well. So that all of us together can be freed and made well and dwell together in love as one human family.
This morning we honor and give our thanks to the one we call Chiz, whose life is an example of what Holy Spirit madness looks like. Some would say, she is out of her mind, like Jesus was. Intent on giving herself, offering her life to save the lives of those who some would demonize and expel. The good news of the gospel is that divine love wins. Good prevails against evil. Life overcomes death. Holy Spirit unbinds us. Holy Spirit empowers us to choose the way that heals and unbinds ourselves and others. The way that creates a single, crazy, beautiful household in which all are welcomed, all are cherished—a household where all can dwell together in love. It isn’t the easy way. It will be costly. But it is worth spending ourselves to walk together in the way that brings life and peace and joy to every body.