The Greek term translated ‘family’ (v21, NRSV) can mean ‘friends’ or ‘relatives’. The fact that Jesus’ mother and brothers are mentioned in v31, suggests that ‘family’ is appropriate in v21. It’s unclear whether his family or unknown people accused Jesus of being ‘out of his mind.’ Most English translation say, “they [suggesting his family] were saying,” and not “the people were saying,” as in the NRSV.
‘Beelzebul’ is an unusual term, only used in the Synoptic Gospels and obscure in its meaning. It was probably a local euphemism for Satan. Jesus, you’ll notice, uses the term ‘Satan,’ rather than the euphemism.
Prepare to listen. Sit still, take a few deep breaths then pray: Lord God, open my ears and let me hear your words. Amen.
Read Mark 3:19b-27
Then he went home; 20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But 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.
Having told us that Jesus’ family accused him of being “out of his mind,” Mark ignores the family (until v31) and focuses instead on the scribes from Jerusalem (most likely an official delegation sent to Galilee area to check Jesus out). They accused him of being demon-possessed. Scribes, who considered themselves to be God’s representatives, assumed Jesus, who never sought their approval, was in alliance with the satan. In response Jesus “called them to him, and spoke to them in parables.” He takes on the religious powers directly.
This is the first time in Mark that Jesus uses parables to teach. It prepares us for the longer discourse in parables in chapter four where the reader is urged to listen “with ears to hear” (4:9), in other words, with a willingness to take to heart and seek to live it. We can assume this also applies to these short sayings and we must attend to them carefully. As Ched Myers suggests, “Jesus is about to articulate something that must not be missed, despite the fact that it is somewhat cryptic” (2015, p. 165). Careful attention is required because parables aren’t easy to grasp. They conceal far more than they reveal. They’re enigmatic sayings that don’t give easy, in-your-face answers. Instead of giving satisfactory answers, they draw attention, as Robert Capon writes, to “the unsatisfactoriness of all their [think ‘our’] previous explanations and understandings” (Kingdom, Grace, Judgment by R. Capon, 2002, p. 5). I think we can say that Jesus intends for us to rethink ‘previous explanations and understandings’ as we reflect on these short parabolic sayings. He shows how ludicrous (not merely unsatisfactory) the scribes accusations are. “How can Satan cast out Satan?” It’s ridiculous!
Another thing about Jesus’ parables is the frequency with which he uses negative (as in ‘bad’) images to highlight a truth about God. He does that here (v27): “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 one who ‘plunders’ the ‘strong man’s’ property is a stronger one, Jesus himself. Jesus “likens his mission to criminal breaking and entering” (Myers. 2015, p. 166). Ultimately the ‘strong man’ is the satan, but also includes those who side with satan and evil, however unknowingly. Jesus was subtly referring to his accusers, the religious rulers, who held the Jewish people hostage to their interpretations of the Law and standards of living. In doing so, they have sided with the evil one. Since the satan, ‘the strong man,’ can’t clean up his own house, another, who is even stronger, must do it. This is what Jesus will do. This is good news. Jesus came to bind the ‘strong man,’ both the satan and all that oppresses us and takes away our ability to LIVE and be all that God intends us to be.
Who are the ones in your community (both church and society) who oppress and rob you of the ability to truly live in the freedom Jesus offers? Name them and remind yourself that Jesus is stronger and has come to ‘tie up the strong man’ oppressor.
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Thank you, Lord Jesus for your greater power that overthrows those who seek to exercise oppressive power over others. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world where Jesus is the stronger One.