Our scripture reading this morning from Mark 3 comes at the end of a long day for Jesus. It was the Sabbath. In the morning, at the synagogue, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand. He got into a confrontation with the religious leaders over that. Then he was at the lake speaking to a crowd so big he had to launch out into the lake on a boat to make room. Oh, and there he healed more people. Then he went up to a mountain where he called out his twelve disciples. And then he went home for supper. But, again, a large crowd gathered, pressing in, so he could not even eat his dinner. His family thought this so dangerous that they tried an intervention, saying “he has gone out of his mind.” They tried to take him away before he got into more trouble. They were too late, because the government investigators showed up.
Reading from Mark 3:22-27:
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.
The accusation? Jesus does his thing by the power of Satan. When you see Jesus casting out demons, they charge, he is doing it by the power of the ruler of demons. You see, ruling powers often resort to such labeling when people dare challenge their authority. But in some sense the logic of the scribes is understandable: because they believed themselves to be God’s representatives, Jesus’ rebellion necessarily must mean that he is in league with Satan. Because he is against us he must be the enemy. In today’s parlance Jesus is called a “terrorist.”
However, Jesus doesn’t just take it. He doesn’t “turn the other cheek.” No; he fights back by challenging their ridiculous charge. He actually takes the offensive, turning the whole argument back on them. Here’s what he says: “If I’m going after terrorists how can I be a terrorist myself?” No, wait, that isn’t what he says. “If I’m casting out Satan how can I be of Satan myself?” There, that’s better. He goes on. He does this little riddle thing about if a house is divided, it cannot stand by itself. Abraham Lincoln famously referred to these lines in describing how the civil war was weakening the nation. Yet Jesus is not suggesting that he and the scribes are really on the same side against a common enemy. No; he is suggesting that they, and the temple government they represent, are the house of Satan about ready to collapse.
Jesus not only rejects that he is doing Satan’s work; he turns the accusation around and points to the scribes and the government of Jerusalem. And he does this with one of the weirdest, most obtuse parables in all the gospels: “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.” Make no mistake about it: Jesus is the plunderer, Jesus is the thief. And, evidently, the strong man represents the powers that be and, as played out in the rest of the gospel, that would be Jerusalem and Rome. Indeed, Jesus actually acts this out later in dramatic action when he goes into the temple and causes quite a ruckus. Perhaps this line from the prophet Isaiah was in Jesus’ mind: “The captives of the strong one will be liberated; the prey of the tyrant will be rescued” (Isaiah 49:25).
But how does Jesus do this? How does Jesus liberate the captives from the strong ones? How does he rescue the victims of tyranny? Well, first, he is confrontational. Jesus very deliberately places himself in conflict with the establishment powers. But, second (and this is crucial!), he does it non-violently. You see, one of the characteristics of the Powers of this world is that to maintain their power they rely on violence. But Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world and, as such, he refuses to use the same tactics as the rulers of this world. He will not use violence to achieve his ends.
Ched Myers in his brilliant commentary on the gospel of Mark, ironically entitled Binding the Strong Man, demonstrates that the entire gospel is a treatise on Jesus continually confronting the powers of his world but always non-violently. He ends up dying on a cross for his efforts, but it is the way of God’s Kingdom.
Aggressive non-violence! That’s what I call Jesus’ tactic. Or, maybe another way to put it: aggressive peacemaking. Jesus was not really into personal peacefulness. He may have been at peace with himself. But in kingdom message was not about how people can experience personal peace, per se. His message was about confronting abusive and repressive power, for the sake of justice. And he did it non-violently. He engaged in aggressive peacemaking.
Back in 1980 the Presbyterian Church (USA) produced a document called Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling. I find it to be quite extraordinary and still very relevant. In it the church is called to affirm three basic statements. They are printed on the front of your bulletin:
1. The church is faithful to Christ when it is engaged in peacemaking.
2. The church is obedient to Christ when it nurtures and equips God’s people as peacemakers.
3. The church bears witness to Christ when it nourishes the moral life of the nation for the sake of peace in the world.
I believe we are called to question the extent to which violence and injustice pervade our society and dominates our relations with one another and with other nations. We need to somehow learn, or relearn, that violence, whether it is personal or national, is never a God thing.
Instead we are all called to work for God’s kingdom justice by making peace, by using peaceful means, indeed, by confronting the violence of our world with Jesus’ non-violent call to action. May we learn war no more. May we be active, intentional and, yes, even aggressive peacemakers.