By Pamela A. Lewis
Reading from the Gospel of Mark, 3:20-30
20 And 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.
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
This has been a demanding yet productive time for Jesus. He has healed countless people of their infirmities, cast out unclean spirits, and elected the twelve apostles, teaching them also how to preach, heal, and exorcise demons. We can identify with his having so much to do that even catching a moment to eat is difficult. Then come the Pharisees and scribes (not to forget members of Jesus’ family), who, despite Jesus’ dramatic and restorative actions, not only accuse him of working with Satan, but also declare him to be “beside himself,” or out of his mind.
But Jesus’ response at once shatters the Pharisees’ and scribes’ illogical fallacy that Satan would rise up against himself, as well as presents the view of the kingdom where all sins (even repented blasphemies) are forgiven and where the Holy Ghost prevails.
Jesus asks, How it can be possible to accomplish good by evil means? He explains that only when an evildoer overtakes those in control can this happen. Figures from past and recent history, such as Hitler, David Koresh, Charles Manson, and Jim Jones were all evil men who were “beside themselves,” yet were believed at first and by many to be bringers of good. Each had conquered and bound a “strong man,” be that in the form of the state, or entire groups of people whom they brainwashed. They overcame those who should have been capable of recognizing what right-mindedness looks like, and thus were able to spoil the house.
How often we misjudge those who are truly in their right mind to be “out of their mind.” We must look at their works in order to tell the difference.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for thirty years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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