Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his 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 he 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.
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
We get a note from Mark that Jesus has returned home. There is no mention of a physical location, just that Jesus is home. Home generally indicates safety and security, but we soon learn that even “home” has become hostile to the ministry of Jesus.
Jesus is at the table with the crowds that follow him, and most English translations paint a picture that the crowd is so large that “they could not even eat.” When I looked at this sentence in Greek, I noticed that the literal translation is “so they could not eat bread.” It’s true that bread is food, and the English translation of “eat” is accurate, but I wonder if Mark is pointing to something deeper.
Bread is a symbol of Jesus’ ministry to the poor and outcast. Jesus is the one who shares bread, unlike the authorities and rulers who act with strings-attached. The crowd has become so large, and the mention that Jesus home, add an interesting layer to the idea that he cannot share bread. Could this be a sign of things to come?
Jesus’ family does show up in an attempt to restrain him. We will explore this more in Mark 3:31-35.
3:22-30 Binding the Strong Man
The scribes have come down from Jerusalem to level charges at Jesus. These authorities are going on the offensive to try and discredit Jesus and put a halt to his mission. They make a public statement that Jesus “has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of demons he casts out demons.” They make a religious statement to discredit his movement. These scribes feel their authority threatened so they get hostile.
In terms that could be used to describe the general political landscape in the united states, Myers explains: “To put it in terms of the political war of myths, when the ruling class feels its hegemony threatened, it tries to neutralize challengers by identifying them with the mythic cultural arch-demon (Myers, 165).”
While this may seem like a strange statement to a culture that talks little about the demonic (outside of appallingly, inaccurate pop-cultural references), this is exactly what politicians enact in their relentless campaign adds. The political machine in the united states runs on fear and “demonizing” your opponent. We know this cycle all-to-well!
Jesus responds to this challenge by going on the offense himself. His does not dismiss the words of the scribes, he turns their words inside-out and discredits them - “Jesus is short-circuiting their self-serving ideological dualism by unmasking its contradictions and collapsing it in upon itself (Myers, 166).” Jesus then turns the accusation upon his opponents and declares the intentions of his ministry.
“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.”
In this short parable, Jesus declares what he has come to do. Jesus names the rule of the scribes (and subsequently the Pharisees and other authorities who hold the people captive) as the rule of satan. Here it is important to remember that the literal meaning of the word “satan” is adversary. We have to unlearn the pop-cultural misunderstandings of satan. Jesus aligns the religious leaders and the powers that be with the realm of the adversary, of the satan, because they oppose the kingdom of God present in him ministry.
Jesus will infiltrate their house, both metaphorically through his ministry to the people they oppress and literally when he enters the temple in Mark 11:15-19. The intentions of Jesus are clear, he has come to bind the supposed “strong man” of the religious leaders and plunder their house.
Myers summarizes: “Mark has come clean: Jesus (a.k.a. the ‘stronger one’ heralded by John, 1:8) intends to overthrow the reign of the strong man (a.k.a. the scribal establishment represented by the demon of 1:24) (Myers, 167).”
Jesus then connects his ministry with the work of the Holy Spirit in verses 28-30. The kingdom of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, is about forgiveness and release. Anyone who opposes this ministry aligns their work against the work of God. Jesus has come to shatter the status quo, to break with “the way things are,” and give life back to the people. “To be captive to the way things are, to resist criticism and change, to brutally suppress efforts at humanization - is to be bypassed by the grace of God (Myers, 167).”
Questions for Modern Day Disciples:
- How are we held captive by “the way things are?”
- How has Jesus Christ set us free to align our lives with the work of God?
- Where do we witness this freedom already at work in our lives?
The next set of notes (can be read here) explores the final verses of Mark 3 and engage Jesus' realignment of kinship ties in the community of faith.