PENTECOST III Sunday, June 10, 2018 LONG DIVISION
St. Mark 3: 19-35
Jesus has just finished a preaching and healing tour. Then he called his disciples and selected those upon whom the proclamation of the gospel will depend. To be called and selected by Jesus, as we are called and selected in our baptism is to be made holy. In that moment of holiness, we reject the devil and all his works and all his ways.
The holiness of the disciples refreshes the holiness of the earth. That upon which Moses stood was holy ground. Exodus 3:5. The disciples are to shake the dust off their feet if a town does not receive them. Where holiness is not received, judgment prevails. In the apocalyptic view of Jesus, the new age has arrived and the old has passed away. The disciples are the first in the new age. They were selected by Jesus; they were called by Jesus. He who initiates the new age also initiates his disciples. This is something new upon the earth. Into their hands is given the care of the earth. The disciples as salt of the earth purify, preserve, protect the earth. It is to them that the dominion of the new earth is safeguarded.
If the disciples, followers of Jesus, lose what is essential to them, they will be useless also, and the earth will not be safeguarded by them. But just what is essential to discipleship? And why is it important not to lose it? The disciples are the original “initiates” of the kingdom of heaven. They are, in essence, what constitute the kingdom of heaven. Where the disciples are, that is where the kingdom of heaven is to be found. To be a disciple is to be an invitation. Discipleship is the gateway into the kingdom of heaven. They demonstrate unconditional commitment to Jesus and his proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. Their faith may fail them at times; their courage may fail them at times; they may be over-enthusiastic or underwhelming at times; they will complain among themselves and they will seek special privileges at times; but they never stop following Jesus. The essence of discipleship is following Jesus. Discipleship is not a choice; it is a gift. One does not follow Jesus because one has chosen to do so; one follows Jesus because the divine has foreknown, foreordained, and called one to this life. Romans 8:28-30. Jesus knew ahead of time those into whose hands he would consign the earth. Both the calling and the consignment are divine gifts.
This is what Christian discipleship is: one follows him upon whom one’s eyes are fastened; one follows him to whom one’s ears are attuned; one follows him to whom one’s heart is surrendered; one follows him in whom one’s soul is anchored; one follows him by whom one’s spirit is quickened, one follows him upon whom one’s mind is stayed. To follow Jesus is to set one’s sight upon the cross. To follow Jesus is to be the suffering of the oppressed. To follow Jesus is to be the poverty of the poor. To follow Jesus is to be the sin of the condemned. To follow Jesus is to be the illness of the sick. To follow Jesus is to be the despair of the hopeless. To follow Jesus is to be the death of the dying. To follow Jesus is also to be the hope of the hopeful and to be the joy of the redeemed. The Apostle Paul gives a spirited defense of this in II Cor. 4:7-12; and 6:3-10. This is what Jesus means when he called the disciples the salt of the earth. This is his gift to us and them. If they lose this divine gift, they place the earth in danger. This is certainly impossible to accomplish, if following Jesus were only a human activity rather than a divine gift.
This is what Jesus was doing just before the stories we read in the Gospel for today.
Then he went home. So begins a story that draws us into its center and invites us, perhaps even forces us, to look at ourselves through the lenses of judgment, of the possibilities of the satanic that lurks around us, shaping the daily events that demand of us constant vigilance, so that we are not absorbed into the darkness just beyond us. Jesus comes home after a tour of preaching, teaching and healing. His accusers are never far away, and now, they have come down from Jerusalem and are in this home. It is not known whose home it is. So far in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been in three homes: the home of Peter, the home of an unknown person, the home of Levi, and now he is in the home of another unknown person. His own family has arrived there, looking for him, so it is likely not the home of his family. They never even entered this home, but remained outside, calling to him.
His accusers, the religious people of the Temple where he sometimes worshiped, have come there, after hearing his preaching and seeing his healing miracles. They have come to accuse him of being in league with the devil. Without evidence, they say that he is possessed by Satan, the ruler of demons, and by the power of Satan he is casting out demons. Little do they understand that what they are saying is that the ruler of demons, Satan, has the miraculous power similar to that of God, to heal. The religious people, his accusers, are putting Satan into the place of God. In the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, Satan had asked Jesus to bow down to him and worship him in return for all the kingdoms of the world. Satan wanted to put himself into the place of God. And now the religious people from Jerusalem are with Jesus, doing something that Jesus had refused to do. They are completely unaware that they are going against the commandment that says, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.” This is idolatry, the total rejection of the One True God, and turning to worship and serve what is not divine. Their minds and souls are already possessed by Satan.
But his accusers say that Jesus is possessed. Remember, in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, Satan means Accuser. Satan is one who accuses. And that is precisely what the religious people of Jerusalem are doing. They have become the accusers, they have been absorbed into the satanic world and they did not even know it.
What does it mean to be absorbed into the satanic world? It means first and foremost, that one has abandoned the divine in favor of the demonic. To live in the world of the satanic is to live in the constant absence of the divine. It means to walk in darkness and shadows, believing that they are walking in light, because Satan too shines brightly for them. His name is Lucifer, the bearer of Light. To live in the world of the satanic is to live in false light where you cannot distinguish between truth and lies. It is to live with falsehood, to live with lies, to live with deception. To live in the satanic world is to live fraudulently. Do not be deceived. The satanic world is every bit as real as the world where we live daily. Satan and his accusers have come into the home where Jesus is trying to eat with his disciples. The satanic can enter at will any place, sacred or profane. Did not Satan take Jesus from the wilderness right up to the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem. Let us not be deceived. The satanic world is all around us. It has been this way forever, even in the sacred space of the Garden that God created, the satanic power was present.
When I speak of the satanic world, what I want to make clear is that anything whatever that draws you away from your spiritual life is satanic. Anything that tries to diminish your faith is satanic. Anything that rips from you the hope you have in God and in Christ is satanic. Anything that entices you away from your cherished dreams and aspirations is satanic. In your baptism you promised to “renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways.” The satanic world cannot abide that renunciation, so it constantly seeks to take over your world. This is what evil is.
In the Large Catechism, Luther understands the devil as the Evil One “who obstructs everything that we pray for.” In all these instances, evil can be interpreted differently. Therefore, we must strive the harder to uncover just what is contained in evil. Evil can be an act that is committed; evil can be a thing that destroys and desecrates; evil can be a particular time when the world seems hopeless; evil can be a condition from which we have to be delivered such as oppression and slavery. Evil is not from the beginning when God created all things good; evil makes its appearance on the earth in the Garden of Eden with the emergence of humans upon the earth. The essence of evil is rejection of the divine. Evil wants to assume the place of the divine, evil seeks to dislodge God permanently. Evil does not seek equality with the divine; instead, evil wants to replace the divine. Evil is not eternal; evil is not immortal; evil is not everlasting; evil does not last forever; evil yearns to remain, but it cannot. Evil recurs; that is its true nature. Evil exists by recurring. Evil is the exact opposite of blessed. Consequently, regarding human beings, evil is a disposition of the soul, of the whole person, whereby the person does not simply stand opposed to the divine but lives in the complete absence of the divine. Evil is self-contained. Evil does not venture out of itself. Evil cannot go beyond itself because it cannot transcend itself. Evil expands from within itself by drawing what is on its periphery into its center. Evil absorbs whatever exists within its nearness by projecting an alternate condition that is flexible and porous and insubstantial.
And when it comes to the theme of evil, Jesus has an answer for them and for us. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” “If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.” Jesus is saying that Satan is seeking to divide us from within. He wants to turn us against ourselves. He wants us to reject ourselves. He wants us to deny who we are as people of faith and hope and goodwill. Satan wants us to be oblivious to the truth that has guided our lives. He wants us to relinquish the values that have shaped our souls. Satan wants to divide us, so that we cannot stand, but will meet our end.
But Satan will not do this to himself. This is what Jesus tells his accusers. Satan will not survive if he rejects all that he stands for and become other that he is. Satan will not divide himself. He knows the danger of division.
To divide yourself is to become fractured, the whole is violently shattered. To divide yourself is to be ruptured, the integrated being that you are is split open with parts of yourself going off in different directions. To divide yourself is to be broken, again a violent disruption of who you are. To divide yourself is to make yourself other than you are, to become someone you don’t know, don’t recognize. But it is also to divide your world, to shut you off from all those who are dear to you, with whom you have loving and abiding relationships. When you are divided your world is divided, and this is the way that leads to your end.
When you are divided you are weakened to the point of death. That is why Jesus says, if Satan casts himself out his end has come. But Satan will not stand against himself. He will not bring about his own end. To put it in terms you all understand, Satan has the power, and he uses it, constantly to pardon himself. That is how he remains strong.
To illustrate his point Jesus says, “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.” Jesus is going much further than saying that his accusers are trying to put Satan in God’s place. Now he is saying that they have already done so. The fact is the house of the religious people is the Temple of Jerusalem. It is where God presides. It is where God is worshiped. It is the most sacred place on earth for the Jews. And now Jesus is telling them that this Temple has been taken over by Satan. In another place Jesus says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it into a den of thieves.” The satanic world has descended upon the Temple of Jerusalem. The people of the Temple now are under the influence of Satan. Satan has entered the Temple, tied them up, and now plunders their soul. This is a complete and irreversible condemnation by Jesus of the religious people who have come to accuse him. He tells them that their end has come. But there is an even more serious condemnation against them.
They say that Jesus is possessed by the ruler of the demons. They are saying that the spirit of Jesus has been defiled, that the spirit of Jesus is evil. This is blasphemy. The spirit of Jesus is nothing other than the Holy Spirit. To say that the spirit of Jesus is evil is something that can come only from the lips of Satan and his followers. Jesus is piling up evidence against his accusers. First, they have put Satan in the place of God. Second, Satan has installed himself in the Temple of Jerusalem and now possesses their soul. And now, in the third place, under the influence of Satan, they have rejected the Holy Spirit. There is a pattern emerging here. In the Gospel of Mark, there is no complete story about the Temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness after he has fasted forty days. All Mark says is that Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted. He does not say how he was tempted, or why he was tempted. But in the gospel for today, Mark presents his own understanding of the temptation, with one major difference. Rather than being tempted in the wilderness by Satan, Jesus is now being tempted in his home by religious people. Mark’s gospel reveals to us that temptation reaches us and abides with us in our own homes. No one is safe, no one is excluded, not even Jesus.
In order to show that temptation reaches into our homes Mark brings the family of Jesus to bear testimony. His mother and brothers have come to this house looking for him because they believe that he is out of his mind. His own family believes that Jesus is possessed. They have come to take him home. Remember, his family was not among his followers. They did not believe in his preaching or in his miracles. It was not until the time of his trial that his brother James started believing in him. And we know from the gospels that Mary his mother followed him all the way to his crucifixion. Of his other three brothers and his sisters we are told nothing. In Matthew 28:10, after his resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalen, “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” He was always concerned for his family, and they were concerned about him. So when they thought that he was out of his mind, they came to take him home. When he was told that his mother and brothers were calling him, he responded. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus makes it clear that family is more than flesh and blood. Family is that core of humanity that stands upon the word of God, to promote it, to defend it, to proclaim it. Family is whoever hears the voice of God calling and responds to it. It is clear that Jesus was comparing family to the religious people who came from Jerusalem to accuse him. He is saying that those on the inside are not necessarily your friends. He is saying that those on the outside are not necessarily your enemies.
Satan has entered the places of dwelling to bring division among the faithful, to bring division among family, to bring division within each individual. Satan has been doing that ever since the creation, in the Garden of Eden. Satan is still dividing us. And Jesus is still defending us. We will not surrender to division.
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