… And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. (Read the whole passage)
A house divided cannot stand.
A house divided cannot stand.
Of all the lines to pick out of this passage, why does this one stand out in particular? Why not “he has gone out of his mind”? Or “then indeed the house can be plundered”? Or “Who are my mother and sisters and brothers”?
A house divided cannot stand. We seem to be caught by this line for some reason.
This short vignette in the life of Jesus can strike us as a strange one. As is usual, Mark uses the structure of the story to draw us to the centre. We begin and end with the crowds. The unwashed, poor, unclean and desperate crowds are pushing in on Jesus and his disciples. They are looking for something, someone to give them good news. And by the end, Jesus names those same crowds as his brothers, sisters and mothers.
The next frame is Jesus’ family. Just after we first hear about the crowds, Jesus’ family comes to take him away because he is out of his mind. And just before the last mention of the crowds, we are reminded that Jesus family is desperate to get him away, to relieve their shame and embarrassment at what Jesus is doing.
And finally the scribes make up the inside frame. He has a demon the scribes claim. And Jesus rebukes the scribes for trying to make claim to actions of the spirit.
Crowds, family scribes. Scribes, family crowds. And right in the middle, Jesus gives us this strange image of Satan’s house. A house divided cannot stand. Satan’s house divided cannot stand. Satan’s house is not divided. Satan’s house, the strongman’s house, IS the undivided house.
As Jesus’ family attempts to restrain Jesus and as the scribes declare that Jesus is acting with a possessed spirit, Jesus reminds all those around him of this fact. It is the house of the strong man that cannot stand if divided, and therefore is not divided. But rather, that Jesus is here to tie up of the strong man in his house and to plunder it.
Jesus speaks to the crowds, his family and the scribes who all believe that they have the world figured out and that they have God figured out. The crowds know that they are on the outside of God’s love, they know that because they are unclean and unable to make sacrifices in the temple that God couldn’t possibly accept them.
Jesus’ family knows that family unity is essential to the Hebrew faith. They know that Jesus’ actions will not only reflect badly on him, but will bring shame to the whole family. They will lose standing in the community.
The scribes know they are part of the religious authority. They know that because they have kept the law that they are permitted to make judgements about who is clean and unclean, who us righteous and who is unrighteous.
Jesus speaks to these groups who believe they have it all figured out and turns their whole world, their whole understanding of God on its head. Jesus tells all of them, they are all wrong.
Like the crowds, Jesus’ family and scribes, we so often think we have things figured out. Whether we think like the scribes, that we can determine where God begins and ends and make judgements about who is outside of God, or like Jesus’ family that we need to keep from being shamed and embarrassed or like the crowds that we are too sinful for God to possibly love us.
Jesus hears all of that and turns it on his it head. Jesus challenges our assumptions, challenges our claim to be the arbitrators of God’s love and declares a completely different reality.
“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”
Whatever we think we have figured out, whatever understanding of God’s activity in the world we claim to have Jesus tells the crowds, tells his family, tells the scribes and tells us that it is opposite of what we think. God is usually doing things very differently than we imagine.
A house divided cannot stand.
But God’s house, divided for 2000 years, continues to stand. It has stood despite our inability to agree. It has stood because the Church has been full of people who thought differently.
God’s house stands divided because it is able to hold within it the differences that we bear as the Body of Christ. God’s house stands because even when we cannot hold our differences between us, God can.
God’s house stands because it stands on Christ.
Satan’s house is the undivided house.
But Christ, who ties up the strong man and plunders Satan’s house, is our foundation.
God’s house stands divided between the many members of the body, the many members who serve and live in different ways, the many members whose different gifts are used in different ways, the many members who are each chosen and loved by God.
God’s house stands divided, as the Body of Christ broken and given for the world, as the Blood of christ shed and poured out for a world in need of forgiveness.
Just as we are all guilty of same eternal sin, of the same original sin, of wanting to be God in God’s place, of standing in judgement of others. Just as we are guilty, like the crowds, family and scribes of standing in Judgement of Christ. Jesus is declaring a new reality.
A reality where people will be forgiven for their sins.
The Body of Christ, the House of God, stands broken and divided in the world. And today, Jesus reminds us, that it is not by agreeing or finding unity that we stand. In fact, Jesus reminds us that it is Satan’s house that stands undivided.
Rather, Jesus declares today that God’s house divided and broken house stands only by God’s forgiveness. God’s house stands only by God’s stubborn insistence that we are all brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. God’s house stands only by the turning of our world upside down.
A house divided cannot stand. But God’s house, broken and divided given and shed for us, has stood, stands now and will stand forever.