And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan! He’s in the grip of Beelzebub himself! By the prince of demons he casts out demons!”
And Jesus called them on it – confronted them directly right then and there. He did it through word pictures. “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” Mark 3:22-24 (NIV with a wee bit of help from me)
It’s an ominous development. The almighty Scribes have come.
Mark has already narrated plenty of run-ins with the local religious frat boys, the local law and religion experts sitting there with their internal objections that Jesus has no problem drawing out into the open; the local Pharisees peering through windows at him eating with gays and lesbians – I mean, with tax collectors and sinners – and then accosting some of his disciples as they were either coming or going, “Why does he eat with sinners!”; with local religious purists who fancied themselves the only ones really serious about matters of God who watched his disciples pluck those heads of grain and thereby trample their Sabbath conventions – which, of course, everyone understood were but the to-be-revered-and-unquestioned parsing of divine Sinai oracles.
And now here is the first Jerusalem delegation. This is serious. Can’t you imagine how solemn they looked? I’m not sure how scribes from Jerusalem would have dressed, but it doesn’t take much to imagine pitiable and despised Galilean peasants parting like the Red Sea to let this royal religious assemblage pass.
Oh how intimidated we can be by blustering religious blowhards from whichever corner they creep. I do believe I would have joined the peasants in parting this way and that – just because all too often that’s what I still do.
I recall Shelby Foote telling the story of Grant’s first encounter with rebel forces early in the Civil War in the West. As he led his men up over the last rising hill before the enemy encampment anxiety swelled up in his heart right up to the back of his throat. And then he crests the hill…and sees the backsides of the rebs beating a hasty retreat over the next hill. It suddenly dawned on him that his enemy was just as a feared of him as he had been of them. It was a lesson he never forgot.
Jesus didn’t bow or kowtow or kiss up or make nice with these religious emissaries. Their speech had been sideways, playing to the crowd (some things truly never do change). Clearly they had not come to hear, to consider, to learn, to take in. They were on a mission to discredit, a mission of threat-management, of defusing the latest challenge to their religious security by one who not only didn’t offer his own acceptable credentials but who refused to recognize theirs.
“He is possessed by Satan! He’s in the grips of Beelzebub himself!”
It could have been worse. They could have accused him of introducing Eastern mysticism among the faithful.
They sneer sideways playing to peasants.
Jesus calls them out. He stares them down. No “How do you do, I’m Jesus.” No bowed head with muttered apologies at having offended their royal religious highnesses. He calls them out. Proskaleo is the word Mark uses – it’s an in-your-face summons. Sideways sneers (can’t you just see their blog!) are met with a face-to-face calling them out. And he proceeds to utter what many consider his hardest line in the entire gospel. They would never have forgiveness, they had committed an eternal sin.
Yeah, there’s something here to learn.
Perhaps we can think of it as “Dealing with Religious Blowhards No Matter How Pompous Their Robes or Airs 101.”
Call them on it.
Dismantle and mute them with word-pictures that leave them guessing.
Keep it to the point.
Let them feel the point.
And then move on. Just keep swimming.
Keep right on casting out demons and doing the Kingdom business that He has sent you on.
Yeah, I’ll take a little bit more of that, Lord.