By The Rev. Sherry Deets
2 Pentecost – June 10, 2012
In our Gospel lesson from Mark, there is a story within a story–the story of Jesus’ family and their relationship to him, which is then interrupted by a second story – that of Jesus’ conflict with scribes who have come from Jerusalem.
Mark creates dramatic tension by telling the two stories together. Each story finds enhanced interest and power through its juxtaposition with the other. In the first story, Jesus’ family, responding to reports that Jesus is insane, seeks to restrain him. In the second story, the Jerusalem scribes try to discount Jesus–to undercut his authority–by saying that Jesus works by the power of Beelzebul and that he has an unclean spirit.
This passage sounds strange to modern and even postmodern ears. Beelzebul? Satan? Demons? What is this passage about?
What is the reality signified by the name Satan? Satan does not necessarily mean a personality with horns and a red tail, but it does name a demonic power that is actively engaged against the compassionate and reconciling love of God. This is the reality that Jesus names here, and whether we believe in a person named “Satan” is not as important as hearing about our captivity to the powers of evil signified by “satan,” powers that continue, to this day, to seek our allegiance.
Stated in this way, the reality of Satan and Beelzebul become disturbingly clear. They name the forces and configurations of power that capture us and cause us to hurt ourselves, to hurt others, and to hurt God. Just to name a few of these, there is the power of race, which tells us to believe that one group is superior to another simply because of skin color or cultural heritage. There is the power of patriarchy, which tells us that men should dominate women. There is the power of materialism, which roars at us that money give us life. We could go on.
In these verses in Mark, Jesus indicates that the power of these categories must be recognized and confronted in our lives if we are to experience the gracious and stunning love of God. He uses the metaphor of tying up the strong man in order to plunder his property. In using this parable, he speaks of the need of the gospel to expose our captivity to the “strong men” of our lives – the materialism, etc. In so doing, he seeks to free up our imaginations, which have become the property of Satan. Our captivity to Satan must be exposed in order for us to begin to discover the glorious freedom of the children of God, as Paul puts it so powerfully in Romans 8:21: “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God”.
So what are we saying? We’re saying that the first task of love is self-purification. Lawrence Kushner in his book, Eyes Remade for Wonder has this to say:
“No one in human history has ever set out to do something evil. Instead they believed what they were doing was right and proper. Our desire to label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ while of great value, is easily distorted. Most of the terrible things human beings do to one another, they do by telling themselves they are actually fighting against some external evil. But in truth more often than not they have only taken the evil into themselves and have become its agents”. (Source: Eyes Remade for W onder by Lawrence Kushner)
It is in the struggle between good and evil that life has its meaning-and in the hope that goodness can succeed. That hope is our answer: goodness can succeed. Evil can be defeated by goodness. When we translate this we realize what we dimly have always known: Evil can be conquered only by love.
One minister described the compassion of God for humanity by putting the following words in God’s mouth:
I know you. I created you. I have loved you from your mother’s womb. You have fled—as you now know—from my love, but I love you nevertheless and not-the-less however far you flee. It is I who sustains your very power of fleeing, and I will never finally let you go. I accept you as you are. You are forgiven. I know all your sufferings. I have always known them. Far beyond your understanding, when you suffer, I suffer. I also know all the little tricks by which you try to hide the ugliness you have made of your life from yourself and others. But you are beautiful. You are beautiful more deeply within than you can see. You are beautiful because you yourself, in the unique person that only you are, reflect already something of the beauty of my holiness in a way which shall never end. You are beautiful also because I, and I alone, see the beauty you shall become. Through the transforming power of my love which is made perfect in weakness you shall become perfectly beautiful. You shall become perfectly beautiful in a uniquely irreplaceable way, which neither you nor I will work out alone, for we shall work it out together. (From “Known” by the Rev. Dr. Charles K. Robinson, Nov. 4, 1973 (duke divinity school review, winter, 1979, vol. 44, p. 44).
Jesus’ whole ministry thus far has been about announcing both a new vision of God and a new way of relating to God. And at the heart of that vision and way is the conviction that God is love, that God desires the health and healing of all God’s creation, that God stands both with us and for us, that God is determined to love and redeem us no matter what the cost, and that this God chooses to be accessible to us, to all of us — indeed, to anyone and everyone.
This is why Jesus sets himself against all the powers that would rob humanity and creation of the abundant life God intends. Jesus introduces a new vision of God and a new way to relate to God…and it’s not what any of those — okay, make that any of us — religious folk would expect.
Jesus tells us: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” For God so loved the world, that he sent his only son, so that we may not perish, but have everlasting life. Amen.
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