Sermons from St
Paula O'Shaughnessy, Sunday 10th June, 2018
‘Tying up the strong man’ then plundering his house. This is what Jesus describes in Mark’s Gospel today. But who is the strong man? Here, a strong interpretation is that the strong man is the powerful establishment of the scribes of Jewish tradition. Jesus is the stronger man, who is intent on overcoming their stranglehold on political power. The exorcism of the demon can be likened to overcoming the legalistic establishment. The scribes were not just copyists of scripture, but were experts on Jewish religious law. They supported the priests, and as they were dependent upon them for their training, they had a strong loyalty to the Jewish traditions and upholding Jewish laws. By challenging the strict establishment rules and laws of Jewish religion, Jesus was quickly making powerful enemies. He stands accused by them of himself being possessed by a demon, because he is able to cast out demons.
We sense the presence of evil, emanating from this group of Scribes – with their false and cynical accusations. Driving them is their will to hold onto political and social power, to attack the one who has questioned the legitimacy of the power structures and the hypocrisy of the arguments put forward to defend the right of the holders of power to remain as authorities on all spiritual and religious matters.
It is the cynical, self-serving nature of the religious establishment, which lacks integrity and truthfulness which is on the attack against Jesus. They oppress the people, keeping them subservient to a society which exploits and enslaves them.
We know evil when we encounter it – it makes us feel physically ill, it is like a poison and its sly and subtle ways, like the serpent curl around the victim and destroy.
Today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis, the banishment of the first man and woman from the Garden of Eden results from the poisoning influence of the serpent. Psychoanalyst, Carl Jung in his writings on the collective unconscious describes the archetype of the serpent as representing death itself. It is the death of self-destructiveness. Where people choose the wrong path, driven by a force which is counter to growth and productiveness.
The banishment from Eden, following their disobedience in eating from the Tree of knowledge of good and evil – means they are forever excluded from the garden where also grows the Tree of Life. This is the tragedy which man has imposed upon himself, an exile of punishment for not following the way of God. The wicked and wayward nature, that destroys and leads to suffering and death.
Jesus, in the passage from Mark warns that to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit ‘can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ A stark warning indeed.
Herein we are on notice – it is a world we live that is fraught with spiritual dangers, with falseness and trickery, including self-deceit all around. It is vital that we recognise the Holy Spirit and to be reverent always to the Holy Spirit.
Jesus in challenging the power of the establishment is entering a struggle with the forces of evil. There is no mercy from that source, which seeks to destroy. The certainty of Jesus’ path – towards his own death at the hands of those with earthly powers – he knows only too well. But they cannot overcome the greater power of God. Jesus’ sacrifice is one of courage. Our eternal debt to God, for this sacrifice is what we must recognise. But we cannot be passive, and just live for ourselves and be hypocrites like the Scribes and Pharisees.
Our Christian mission is to live by the teachings of Jesus, and not to give into weakness and self-deceit. When is it self-righteousness and when is it really us standing up as Christian pilgrims? Do we defend the weak? Do we hold back when we think we may lose something that makes our life comfortable and easy?
These are matters for our prayerful conversations with God. Difficult conversations – Where we need to be truly honest. A relationship where ‘no secrets are hidden’. God knows us better than we know ourselves.
Though the first man and woman were banished from the garden of Eden, God later sent his son to save mankind. We are not alone. God is with us and we are promised eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Here on earth, though – we are to work to bring the Kingdom of Heaven. To ease the suffering, to break the stranglehold of evil, which is always and everywhere ‘immer und uberall’.
We need to recognise that the Tree of Knowledge is not the same as the Tree of Life. Only with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit can be discern this.
With the Holy Spirit, Lord, may we have the courage to overcome evil, to bind the strong man, the evil spirit – to liberate people and ourselves from the evil one. Lord protect us always and everywhere, be with us and in our every thought word and deed. Amen