Jesus and his disciples entered a house and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 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 his end has come. 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. “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
When you read any of the gospels,it won’t be long before something will strike you. It is as though there are two stories about Jesus. There is the Jesus we know best – gentle, meek, humble, compassionate, healing, forgiving. But there is another side – the not-so-meek-and-mild Jesus of authority and power – commanding the storm, overpowering evil spirits, the Jesus who went out of his way to annoy people, and provoke the religious elite, andwind them up. And people responded to him in two very different ways too. Some saw his miracles, heard his teaching, and turned to him in faith and trust. Others saw the same miracles and heard the same words, but thought they were the work of the devil, Beelzebul. Or they thought he had gone mad – like his own family, coming all the way from Nazareth to restrain him – or ‘have him sectioned’, as we might say today.
There is more going on in the gospels than meets the eye. Almost invisible, just out of sight, beside the Jesus people could see and hear and touch, behind everything he did and said, in all his encounters with people, there is another encounter taking place, a ‘power-encounter’: between God and the forces of evil.
That is what the parable we read is about. The Mighty Man overcoming the Strong Man, tying him up, and then raiding his stronghold. Jesus is speaking about himself. The Son of Man is the Mighty Man, come on God’s great ‘Search and Rescue Mission’, to break into the Strongman’s stronghold, rescueGod’s stolen property, and set us free to return to our rightful owner. “He broke the bonds of evil and set your people free” as we say at communion. The ‘other’ story behind everything Jesus did and said, is about whom we belong to. Who owns our hearts.
I can speak like this because of what happened to me. In my twenties, I rejected Christ, turned my back on the church, and set off to explore the spiritual supermarket. I wanted to find a god of my own choosing, one that would fit in with my opinions and personal preferences. In other words, a god made in my own image. I began with yoga, progressed to various kinds of meditation, and ended up joining an Indian guru-cult. When I came to my senses and realised my terrible mistake, I made a run for it.
But almost immediately, I was plunged into spiritual turmoil. I was a walking conflict-zone, being pulled in two different directions in a spiritual tug of war, Part of me longed to return to Christ. The other part flatly refused to have anything to do with him or any religion for that matter. One Sunday, I went to my old church. In the middle of the service, I looked up at the familiar cross, and knew without any shadow of any doubt – I could almost hear his voice above the noise of worship – I knew Jesus was saying ‘Come’. And I remember gripping the back of the chair in front and muttering through clenched teeth, “No. You’re not getting me!”
That conflict was about ownership. About whom I belong to. Who owns my heart.
Jesus won that battle, but not by overpowering me by force or coercion. What conquered my rebellious heart in the end was another kind of power altogether, the power of unconditional love. It turns out that The Mighty Man is the lowly man on the cross. Gentle, meek, humble, compassionate, healing, forgiving, who won my heart by his suffering love.
So I am standing here as someone who has tasted life on the far side – you could say the ‘dark side’, but who has been set free to live in the light of Christ’s love. But that is not to say that I find the Christian life easy. I find it difficult. Perhaps we all do. because it means living between two realities, two stories. There is the here-and-now, everyday reality of our lives and the world we live in, and which so often still seems to be held captive in Strongman’s stronghold.
But behind all we see in the world, its strife and terror, its noise, and suffering and oppression,
when we look, “not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen” as Paul says,
we glimpse a far greater story; of God at work, reclaiming human lives and human hearts for his kingdom. And we take heart, knowing that there is no stronghold on earth that will forever withstand the power of his eternal, unconditional love. Amen