• Steven Marsh

Serving–Avoiding Captivity: a Reflection on Genesis 3:8-15 and Mark 3:20-35

The good news of Jesus is that we do not need to be held captive by “the powers and principalities” of darkness. My friends, we live in a wonderful time in history right now. Yes, you have good news to share with people who are held captive by the powers of race, patriarchy, materialism, and militarism. These powers are dark in they are not just. Think a moment about the chaos that exists around these issues.

While elaborating on loving one’s neighbor, apologist Michael Ramsden spoke of a colleague who while in Asia asked his audience to close their eyes and imagine peace. After a few seconds the audience was invited to share their mental pictures of peace. One person described a field with flowers and beautiful trees. Another person spoke of snow-capped mountains and an incredible alpine landscape. Still another described the scene of a beautiful, still lake. After everyone described their mental picture of peace there was one thing common in them all—there were no people in them. Ramsden commented, “Isn’t it interesting, when asked to imagine peace the first thing we do is to eliminate everyone else.”[1]

Like the audience imagining “peace,” we too see the locus of the chaos residing in others. We too shut people out in order to have peace, or at least divide people into those who cause chaos and those who are like ourselves.

The chaos others cause can make us angry. And anger can lead to rage. Truly, it is not just for one group to believe they are superior to another “simply because of skin color or cultural heritage;” to use the power of patriarchy stating that “men should dominate women;” to motivate through the power of materialism, “which roars at us that money gives us life;” or to flaunt the power of militarism which asserts that “weapons and war bring us peace and harmony.”[2]So much of the conflict in America now revolves around race, patriarchy, materialism, and militarism. And people on both sides are angry. When anger progresses to rage, we run the risk of committing blasphemy as followers of Jesus. What is blasphemy? Blasphemy is “Expressing through speech or writing that which is impious, mocking, or contemptuous toward God.”[3]Anger holds us captive and imprisons us in rage with an unforgiving disposition and behavior. What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is “pardoning or remitting sinful offenses. It restores a good relationship with God, others, or self after sin or alienation.”[4]

Jesus entered a house, quite randomly, and a great crowd gathered outside. The scene must have been chaotic. Jesus’ family heard about the chaos, went to encourage and protect Jesus, but concluded that he was out of his mind. Out of his mind, is another way of saying, Jesus had an evil spirit. In Jesus’ time mental instability was generally attributed to demonic activity. The charges of the family and of the teachers of the law are designed to stop Jesus from continuing his activity. Jesus was charged with being demon possessed. They called him Beelzebub, which is a euphemism for the Devil.

In response, Jesus addresses the logic of the law of contradiction. He states what was self-evident: if Satan attacks himself, eventually there will be no more Satan left and he would become powerless. But this is not so, Jesus has power. The law of contradiction states that a person or institution cannot be divided against itself. Charged with possession by an evil spirit, Jesus claims to be working not with evil spirits, but with the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven 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.”[5]So, what is the unforgiveable sin? Not believing in God.

At Geneva, we aspire to be followers of Jesus who are about remembering, telling, and living the way of Jesus. We want to be the best Jesus someone sees. As followers of Jesus, we worship God not race; God not patriarchy; God not materialism; God not militarism. As followers of Jesus, we are to demonstrate Jesus Christ to the world. Rebecca Manley Pippert in Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World writes,

Even we who know him need to be refreshed and reminded. I reread the Gospels a while back out of a desire to “rediscover Jesus.” I was a bit alarmed by several attitudes that I sensed increasingly among believers. One was that the Gospels are light reading for the spiritually young whereas the Epistles are the real meat and potatoes for the mature. Another was an attitude that focused only on the Gospels but manipulated Jesus into being the Lord of their particular cause—the environment, women’s rights, religious tolerance ort the like. These can all be valid causes, but they sometimes revealed more about the person advocating the cause than they did Jesus.[6]

The gospel reveals the strongholds and “strong men” that hold sway over our lives.

Our lives parallel life as it was in the Garden of Eden. We hide from God and are tempted to harm one another. Life is a fluid and dynamic interplay between man and woman, garden and wilderness, blessing and curse. We desperately want to understand and be enlightened.[7]There is something wrong in human nature that is only rectified in and through Jesus Christ. As John Rollefson notes, “It is not that the imago dei has been erased from our DNA but that deep within ourselves we are not fully what we are meant to be and, what is more, we know it.”[8]Christians share in word and deed the good news that Jesus has already broken the strongholds. Jesus is our “strong man” and he vanquishes all other “strong men.”

[1]Provided by Van Morris in Michael Ramsden’s article “Is Christianity a Matter of Convenience?” (July 29, 2015) as found on http://www.keswickministries.org.

[2]Nibs Stroupe in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 119.

[3]Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 31.

[4]Ibid., 107.

[5]Mark 3:28-29

[6]Rebecca Manley Pippert, Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 32.

[7]Thank you, Bert Marshall, for your insights. They are found in in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 99, 101, and 103.

[8]John Rollefson in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 102.

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