Jesus’ case is tricky too. Because he did do something to get the legal experts in Jerusalem all riled up. It was shortly before this story, when Jesus healed a man with a withered hand, healed at a time when it was against the law. He did it on the Sabbath, the day of rest from all working. Jesus’ explanation, of course, was that the Sabbath was made to serve humankind, not the other way around. But immediately – a favorite word in Mark’s gospel – immediately, the Pharisees and Herodians, went out to conspire how to destroy Jesus. Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah the Jerusalem authorities were given to warm up to. He tested the limits of the law, and even went over the line, at times. He was not a leader who was approved from within their circles, but had come from the northern rebel territory of Galilee, the place where he had called his disciples to leave their families and become a wandering landless band, a new order, not quite definable, unattached to the politics or socially approved institutions the legal experts recognized.
So, demonization is apparently part of the plan to destroy Jesus, and not just subtly, but blatantly, going all in, with one outrageous attack. He is evil itself! He is Beelzebul, ruler of the demons! How else could he cast out demons, like the healing of the man with the withered hand, unless he knew those demons intimately?! Just look at him, he’s out of his mind! He’s possessed, himself!
But the crowds don’t fall for it, not quite yet. They’re still curious to hear Jesus’ side of the story. How can Satan cast out Satan, Jesus says? If a dominion is divided against itself, that dominion cannot stand. It doesn’t make sense, what they’re saying about me.
And, a parable, or riddle: 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.
Jesus turns the tables! The legal experts, out to trap him, out to destroy him, out to demonize him, are in league with the strong man, they are the ones who have been plundering the property of the people, the peasant crowds. And Jesus is the only one who is stronger than these authorities, and the ruler of demons, just as John the Baptist said. Jesus is the only one who can tie up Beelzebul, and those who are in cahoots with him. One who is stronger than all the rest, as John said when he saw Jesus coming towards him at the Jordan – he has the power of God.
Who is the strong man we know? Who are the authorities that plunder the people and claim to speak with religious conviction, or political power, but who are really attuned – perhaps unbeknownst to themselves – to defend the status quo that continues to empower and enthrone them, making them little lower than the gods? Who are those that create their own family-of-the-privileged, instead of a family of the children of God? And, is the church ever complicit in these privileges? If so, how do we break out?
Adam and Eve, caught in a web of lies, need to break out of sin. They had it all, the Garden of Eden, privileged beyond belief. And still it wasn’t enough, they wanted more, and they didn’t think twice about breaking God’s prohibition to eat from the tree in the middle of the Garden. And, their story of sin and separation, is the story of us all. We are the ones who have hid from God, ready to blame even our closest companion and friends, in a vain hope to keep up our untarnished and perfect image. Why have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat, God asked Adam, who said, Eve gave me the fruit from the tree, and I ate. Then God said to the woman, What about you? And Eve said, the serpent tricked me, and I ate.
So, by this tale of complete and utter failure, by their abuse of privilege, they are able to show us, how to break out of sin and separation from God, how the tree of life is not ours to take. It is only ours, so far as God gifts it to us.
So, how do we break out of this web of sin – our sin in thought, word, and deed; thinking better of ourselves than others; telling lies; saying hurtful things; looking the other way when action is needed? First of all, there is no hiding from God. The one who hides from God is the one who is in denial of ones responsibility in the world. And besides, God sees everything we do, all the time! Second, blaming others, especially those most dear to us, is a cop-out, another form of denial. God has given us everything we need to live a rich and full life – we have the Garden of Eden already, we just keep tripping over our privilege, envious of more, denying the freedom and responsibility God places in our hands, and blaming others, instead of living with it as a gift from God. Yes, we have everything we need already! In Christ, we have life, and we have it abundantly.
And, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God keeps pushing us back into human community with one another, where we are invited to live together, not polarized, not abusing privilege, but finding a way to share the Tree of Life and make the gift grow – to make it enough for each other, as God has already made it enough for the whole world.
Of course that’s an unpopular message. It’s threatening to everyone, because we have been tempted by the power of the ruler of demons to believe we deserve what we possess, and call it ours, and so it goes on down the line, pitting us, one against the other, just as the serpent drew up the game plan of temptation, instead of trusting in the One who made this world very good, who made this urban green space, this community, that is enough.
Jesus didn’t even have time to sit down and eat with his disciples because of his battle with the ruler of this world. Adam and Eve, on the other hand, didn’t hesitate to grab it up and chow down! We have the table of grace, the meal of life, set and prepared for us each and every week that we gather. Let us eat and be satisfied. Let us be filled with the power to bind up the strong man, and continue our journey with Jesus toward God, who is alive in every neighborhood and community around us, gifting us with healing, salvation and life.