” 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. (Read the whole passage)
It is only the second week into this long season of green, and Mark is giving us some unusual stuff. We don’t often remind each other of that story from the gospel when Jesus’ family thought he was nuts and tried to drag him away.
Now, of course, last week we heard the story of Jesus’ healing a mean with a withered hand on the sabbath. An action which enraged the pharisees so much that they began plotting to destroy him.
And so as we explore this next interaction between Jesus and the people around him, it is probably helpful to remember that Mark might be intending us to see the extreme behaviour or reactions… the Pharisees who plot to destroy Jesus followed by family who think Jesus is crazy.
Mark invites us to reconsider again and again just what Jesus is up to in the world, and who Jesus is, often by acknowledging our own extreme responses to God’s call to follow.
Mark uses the structure of the story to make a point. 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.
Inside of the bookends of 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 end their shame and embarrassment at what Jesus is doing.
And finally the scribes sit in the inner sections of the story. They claim that Jesus has a demon. And Jesus rebukes the scribes for trying to control the actions of the spirit.
So the order of the story goes: 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.
A house divided cannot stand.
As Jesus’ family attempts to restrain him and as the scribes declare that Jesus is acting with a possessed spirit, Jesus speaks about the human search for normalcy and conformity. Conformity is often touted as unity, and yet when we consider what it often takes to achieve a unified community with no outward divisions, it is not a healthy community. Unity often required totalitarian leadership, speaking with one mind and voice requires that most people bend and twist themselves into the vision and view of another. It is the house of the strong man that cannot stand if divided, therefore the strong man’s standing house is not divided.
Yet, Jesus is here to tie up the strong man and plunder his house.
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, unclean and inadmissible to the temple. Unable to make sacrifice in order to received God’s mercy and forgiveness.
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 that they are 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.
Yet 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.
Yet, God’s house, broken and divided stands here.
God’s church stands because of the many members gathered together in the waters of Baptism, waters that erode and split away our unity with sin and death.
God’s people stand because of the the Gospel Word proclaimed in our midst that divides us from all the things that we cling to that are not of God.
God’s Body gathered in Christ kneels together in order to be broken and shed for the world, so that grace and mercy can be seen and known by a divided and scattered world.
God’s house is the divided and broken house, the house with cracks and rifts because of the light and mercy of God bursting out in as a sign of God’s promise of new life given for us.