Mark 3:22-30

The Kingdom Is Opposed (4) – Jesus as A Sign Of Contradiction:

Rejection By Scribes

The incident that follows connected with preceding ones. Jesus had engaged with a variety of Pharisees, culminating in some of them beginning to plot his death with the representatives of the political establishment. This encounter immediately followed his brush with his family who feared he was out of his mind. The accusation, made now by scribes, was the more critical, asserting that Jesus’ activity was satanic and that he was possessed by an evil spirit, indeed, by the ruler of all evil spirits.

Mark 3:22-30 – Some Scribes Claim that Jesus is Possessed

22 The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem
were saying that he was under the power of Beelzebul
and he was casting out demons
through the ruler of demons.
23 He summoned them around him
and spoke to them in parables,

This encounter gives a sense of the viciousness and ferocity of the climate in which Jesus exercised his ministry. It is a classic example of character assassination.

The critics came from Jerusalem, the heartland of orthodoxy. They were theological and canonical specialists, the scribes. Possibly they had been alerted to Jesus’ ministry by some of the Galilean Pharisees. They were regarded as experts in discernment and exorcism of cases of demonic possession.

Jesus called them (unidentified) to him and spoke in parables. Jesus did not intend to spell out a clear message, applicable to one single instance, but to invite people into deeper reflection on the mystery of the Kingdom.

So far Jesus had confronted evil by the sheer power of his own truth and love. 

Evil does not take over people completely, but is present in them and made their own to various degrees. The source of so much evil lies in the power of cultures to entrap people in attitudes and structures of untruth and mutual disrespect. It is worth noting that in the narrative to date, Jesus had not attacked persons, but had named and resisted the evil within them.

When people are not aware of the evil within them, they invariably project it onto others, whom they then believe to be the very embodiment of that evil. This was obviously the dynamic at work in the scribes. Through their lack of self-knowledge, they were trapped in their own blindness. They saw other people as possessed. They did not see the same evil in themselves. They said Jesus was an evil man

24 “How can Satan cast our Satan?
If a kingdom is internally divided,
that kingdom cannot last.
25 If a household is divided internally,
that household cannot last.
26 If Satan rises up against himself and is disunited,
he cannot last, but meets his end.

Jesus made the point that Satan was not in the process of destroying himself. If Jesus was successfully eliminating the evil dominating people, he was obviously not evil himself.

Jesus’ comment so far hardly qualified as parable: it was a direct illustration of his point. But he then somewhat enigmatically added:

27 No one can enter the house of a strong man
and then plunder his goods
unless he first ties up the strong man.
Only then can he plunder his house.”

Jesus saw himself not simply as a strong man. He was "the stronger one". Mark obviously saw this encounter as particularly significant. Right at the beginning of his narrative he had John the Baptist identify Jesus as "the stronger one" (1:4-7). This would be the only explicit instance in his narrative where he would return specifically to the title. The incident engaged the very essence of the message and approach of Jesus.

Satan, who considered himself a strong one, would indeed try to “tie up” the strong man Jesus. He would eventually succeed in having him assassinated. But he would find himself defeated in the process. The tables would be turned, and his house would be plundered. Jesus could not be tied up.

28 “Get this clear.
People will be forgiven all their sins
and every blasphemy they make.
29 But whoever blasphemes against the holy Spirit,
never receives forgiveness but remains guilty of an eternal sin.”
30 He said this because they said that he had an unclean spirit.

Jesus distinguished general sins and blasphemies (that God can and does forgive) from blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, but left people to ponder what he was referring to, and to work it out from the dynamic of the encounter: 

The scribes had erred on two counts: 

  • They had been blind to the evil present in themselves. 
  • They had projected that evil onto Jesus. They had rejected in Jesus his uncompromising speaking of the truth and interacting in love. They had called good evil. 

Their sin was culpable blindness to the good in others and to the evil in themselves. Since they needed to be aware of their guilt and to accept it before they could open themselves to God’s mercy, those in denial excluded themselves from forgiveness, unless they changed. 

How does such sin take shape in life? Jesus left the question open for disciples to work out the answers for themselves, not so much in theory as in the practical situations of life.

[Given the context in which the question had arisen in Jesus’ ministry, and in light too of the particular pressures and questions troubling Mark’s own community, some applications seem obvious. 

Sin is to be seen in the tendencies:

  1. to absolutise: to demonise (or to canonise) people. People have a mixture of both good and bad attitudes and behaviours. Where people are in conflict, it is important to be alert not only to the evil in others, but also in themselves; alert, too, to the good in others, as in themselves.
  2. to reject the fact that only truth and love can solve the injustice, oppression and exclusion abroad in the world.
  3. to endeavour to right the violence in the world by the use of other than love and truth, specifically by violence. Violence cannot eliminate violence: it serves only to compound it. How can Satan cast out Satan?

The blindness and hardness of heart evidenced by these scribes was not a failure peculiar to them. They are endemic to human nature in all cultures and in all ages. Satan cannot be overcome by satanic methods: evil is not overcome by evil; violence breeds violence. Jesus’ resistance to oppression did not compromise his profound respect for every human person and for freedom within the limits of the common good. He avoided all coercion and violence, but did not stop short of active, though non-violent, disobedience where cultural and religious customs violated human dignity.] 

Relevant to Mark’s Community? 

Mark was particularly sensitive to the questions facing his own community. He was probably writing immediately before the Roman conquest of Palestine and the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. In the ferment in Palestine prior to Rome’s decisive crushing victory, false Messiahs were making strenuous efforts to conscript all Jews in the country into armed resistance: violence answering violence. The young communities were under great pressure.  In Mark’s mind, though violence might lead to change of secular regime, Satan would still rule unchallenged. (Cf.13:24-37)

While clearly focussing on the issue under discussion, it is also worth noting Jesus’ passing reference to the general attitude of God towards sinners: People will be forgiven all their sins and every blasphemy they make.

The human vocation is not to earn God’s love or forgiveness, but to believe it, to let it be. But truly believing and assenting to it involve also the corresponding insight that God loves every other human person as well. All who accept this God recognise the need to relate mutually on that basis, and specifically to be open to forgive, both as individuals and as society.

This is precisely what Jesus had been preaching from the moment of his entry into Galilee: “The time has been fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come.  Change your ways of thinking, and entrust yourselves to the good news.”

Next >> Mark 3:31-35