Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Most of us have had what is often called a “bad hair day.” Not necessarily in the literal sense of how our heads are adorned, but just those sort of days where very little seems to go your way. I know I have an awful lot of days like that. Occasionally we probably all have those times when we would prefer to shut ourselves off from the rest of the world because Murphy’s Law…“if anything can go wrong, it will,” seems to be the norm. When such days occur, we are humbled by the reminder that we are limited human beings.
Even as God in the flesh, there were days during His ministry where it even seemed like Jesus was dealing with Murphy’s Law. It really couldn’t be, of course, since nothing ever happens apart from God allowing it, but to our human way of seeing things, today’s lesson from St. Mark’s gospel account certainly had that appearance, didn’t it?
First, His family criticizes Him because of the way He manages the crowds: “He’s out of his mind!” they concluded; and Mark tells us that they were out to “seize” or restrain Him. And if that wasn’t bad enough, then Jesus has a conflict with the religious leaders who have been sent to investigate His preaching, teaching, and working of miracles. Having seen and heard about Jesus’ success with exorcisms, they claim that Jesus, “has Beelzebul”—that is, the prince of Baal. They mean that He is controlled by Satan, and is casting out demons by the power of Satan.
So it was double trouble as our Lord is bad-mouthed first by His family, and then the scribes. Think for a moment… how would you react to such opposition and criticism? How well we know the experience of doing all the right things with the best of intentions, only to have it back-fire on us! If you’re anything like me—that is, a flawed, impatient, defensive human being—you probably get upset, and want to lash out verbally, or worse.
Prior to what we hear in this gospel lesson, Jesus had been doing much what He came to do: He preached, He taught, He healed, and He cast out demons. Such activity attracted the attention of the crowds, and in spite of it being all constructive and true, it came with criticism and rejection.
There were lots of naysayers—folks who had nothing better to do than criticize Jesus and put Him down. But Jesus answers His critics with a word about life in His Kingdom, and compares that to how we live in the kingdom of this world: “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 is coming to an end.”
Simple logic dictates that any human organization or group that is divided against itself, destroys itself. And the same is also true of Satan’s kingdom. To illustrate this, Jesus then tells a parable: “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.”
A thief cannot plunder unless and until he first disables the security system. It’s a parable that we wouldn’t expect to hear from Jesus; it seems to defy the “do not steal” of the 7thcommandment. Yet the emphasis is upon the strong man.” Who or what is the strong man? Is it Satan? Or is it perhaps even our own selves? As long as a house is both united and occupied by a strong man, then there’s not much that can be taken.
I would hope that very few of us give much thought to stealing or plundering someone’s house, but some may well be quite worried about our own security and possessions, so that we DO worry about someone stealing from our own. What kind of strong men demand our attention? One must defeat the strong man in order to plunder. To put it another way, you have to deactivate the alarm system before you break in to get the strong man’s goods!
It would be utter stupidity to enter a strong men’s house to steal goods within it…unless the one who plunders is stronger! And this is what Jesus attempts to communicate to His opponents. He is stronger than the prince of demons. Satan may be strong, but He, Jesus is infinitely stronger! And the moment that He triumphs over Satan is a moment of triumph for His Church, for to plunder Satan’s domain is when God’s Kingdom comes to us, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Our Lord couldn’t be clearer: He not only stands in opposition to Satan, He has completely defeated him! Every time someone comes to faith, every time someone is baptized, every time someone is released from bondage to sin in any way…every time sins are confessed and forgiveness is believed, the strong man’s house is being plundered!
There are at least three things to understand here: First, there is spiritual war or struggleinvolved in the Kingdom of God. The social ills of our society and community have a spiritual foundation sin which creates the violence, despair and chaos that we see all around us. What we see in the decay of our culture are but symptoms of living under the dominion of the “strong man.” Each time we pray we pray, “Thy kingdom come,” or “deliver us from evil,” we are praying for our Lord Jesus Christ to plunder the strong man’s house and to prevail against the devil.
This reality is what prompted St. Paul to say:
“Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)
And so a part of our responsibility of claiming to be Jesus’ disciples means that we will be engaged in the opposition to evil; remembering that while we are called to fight in the battle, the victory is not ours, but His! Unless He–the Christ—first binds the strong man, then indeed He may plunder his house.
Secondly, Jesus assures us of the ultimate outcome. The incarnate Son of the Father has decisively engaged Satan in a fight to the finish. When He was encountered by the wilderness temptation to circumvent or step around the cross, Jesus resisted the devil, and so triumphed over evil.
In living a human life free from sin and then by taking all humanity’s punishment on the cross and rising from the dead, Jesus has bound that strong man who comes “to steal, kill and destroy.” When Jesus uttered the words, “it is finished,” from the cross, He declared that everything necessary to save humanity had been done; including the defeat of the devil. Satan may be strong, but Jesus is stronger, and He will not allow the Evil One to prevail over you, or over any of His chosen ones.
But there is third thing to remember is this: If our Lord was able to defeat the Strong Man, then he is able to deliver us from evil as well. We need not be subject to the “bondage to sin” that we talk about in the confession.
Whatever disappointments we may have in ourselves, or in our inability to overcome harmful habits or behaviors destructive to our life; our Savior is strong enough to save. God’s arm is not so short that it cannot save or deliver, for through the liberating power of the cross, Jesus frees and forgives. And so He plunders the house we build by our own reason and strength. This is the reality that motivated St. Paul to say, “Consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)
Our situation as Christians is like the story of a cruel landlord. Supposing that you live in a run-down apartment, and it’s the best you can afford. There are holes in the walls and ceiling, the carpet is smelly and threadbare, and there are rats and cockroaches everywhere. The windows leak heat in the summer and cold air in the winter, and they let insects in, too. The faucets drip constantly, and the toilet often overflows. Yet the landlord still collects the rent, and when you hesitate to pay, and complain because of the poor conditions, he threatens higher rent. You have nowhere else to live and can’t afford anything better, so you keep on paying the rent.
One day, though, you hear a knock at the door. You open it to behold a well dressed, polite young man who tells you that he has just purchased the building you live in! He asks to inspect the premises, and as he sees what sort of conditions you are living in, he is appalled and promises to make repairs and let you live there for free.
Shortly after he leaves you hear another, harsher knocking on the door. You open it to find your angry old landlord standing there demanding his rent. Do you give in to his intimidations and pay, or resist him? You are filled with fear as you realize that you don’t have the power that he has to make you pay! Then you remember! The place doesn’t belong to him anymore; you have a new landlord. And so, you tell the old one to take the matter up with the new owner.
Just like the mean old landlord, Satan will continue to harass and intimidate you, but the reality is that the strong man is tied up! You have been bought and paid for! You have a new landlord, and you will dwell with Him forever, and He even invites you to supper regularly!
The stronger One who is both God and man prevails. Thanks be to God for all His blessings, Amen!