Binding the Strong Man*
“…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,” said Jesus.
Who is the Strong Man, in this parable? *Ched Myers wrote a whole commentary on the Gospel of Mark, that refers to this very passage, which he entitled, “Binding the Strong Man.”
Is the strong man Satan? Or the Son of God?
Jesus says he is speaking in parables. In fact it’s the first parable in Mark’s gospel, which is the first and earliest Gospel of the four we have – so it’s possibly the first parable Jesus taught. And, as a parable, he doesn’t come right out and say it, but yes, he, Jesus, is the strong man. Though he understands the leaders from Jerusalem see him as a demonic strong man. But Jesus turns that around to say he has come to bind up the One who has been plundering the property, the house of Israel, and indeed whole world, the One who is in the process of taking everything he wants – robbing us. Jesus calls him Satan. The scribes like the term Beelzebul. But Jesus makes it clear, he is the One who has come to bind him up, to liberate and save the house. Therefore he cannot be Satan, because “how can Satan cast out Satan?”!
And, John the Baptist has already tipped us off in the very first chapter, that One who is more powerful than any other One, is coming, the one who John baptized, and whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit, who appeared as a descending dove on Jesus. Jesus, is the stronger One.
Who is the strong man, in your life? Who is the one you turn to, the one you offer your ultimate trust to, offer your life, your worship and praise? Is your strong man, the man from Nazareth? The man of peace? The healer of the nations? The giver of grace and love? The king of crucified glory?
Or do we worship a different strong man? One who can protect our income and wealth? One who can protect us with a more powerful rifle, explosive, or army? One who can protect our house, our family, our country, by building a higher wall, by turning our backs on refugees and the persecuted?
The story of Israel takes a momentous turn in our First Reading, as the story of Samuel story winds down. Samuel’s leadership has been weak, and has left a vacuum, begging to be filled. But instead of digging deeper into their heritage and faith, the people of God are overcome by their jealousy of other nations. And they beg for the simpler, the autocratic, answer. “…we are determined to have a king over us,” they say, “so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
They forgot who their strong One was. They had forgotten their, God of the covenant, the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery, to the Promised Land. Now, that relationship wasn’t good enough. They look to a human strong man.
They saw how they were different from other nations, but forgot why that was. For it was difficult being in relationship with God – being, the chosen people. Submitting to the authority of a higher power is demanding; covenanting with the Creator God means your life is not your own, and that you have a responsibility to your neighbor. It means you must love your God, and your neighbor as yourself, and even your enemy. But Samuel’s own family had not even done that. His sons were repeat offenders. And so the leadership of their religion and their nation, Samuel and his family, were a poor example of Israel’s life to be lived in covenant with their God.
So why not at least have a king like all the other nations did, they thought? Maybe then they could defend themselves, have a little pride, and feel better!
Samuel was distraught when he heard this. Yes, he was partly to blame. But really, he thought – has it really come to this?
So, Samuel goes to God for counsel: LORD, they want a king to govern us, Samuel prayed to God. And God answered: “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. From the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this very day, they’ve been behaving like this, leaving me for other gods. …but, you can warn them of what they’re in for. Tell them the way kings operate, just what they’re likely to get from a king.”
So Samuel tried. ‘Guess what? God said he will consider giving you a king, but you have to understand a few things first: your sons will have to serve as soldiers, others will be forced into labor farms, or make weapons for war. Your daughters will have to become cooks and waitresses for the king. Your best fields and vineyards will be conscripted and given over to the rich, and they’ll tax them to support the king’s bureaucracy. Oh ya, and he’ll take your prize workers and best animals for his own use, and tax them too, and you’ll end up no better than slaves.’
But the people would hear none of it. “No!” they said. “We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations.” (Exactly!)
Who is the strong man for us? Is it, Christ Jesus who is our God? Or is there another one we desire?
In this parable in Mark, Jesus offers himself as an alternative king, with a kingdom and realm even more powerful than the dominions and powers of Rome’s imperial kingdom, and the scribal leaders in Jerusalem who have been mesmerized and overcome by Caesar and Herod.
The conflict of kingdoms is a reality that must be dealt with, and Jesus comes as the one who is able to overwhelm Satan’s reign by binding up the strong man, and taking back the things he had confiscated – us! Here in chapter 3, this is Mark’s mission statement, says Matt Skinner. “The whole Gospel is a story about the reign of God coming to displace another reign, and that other one will not relinquish its power without a fight.”
Who is our strong man? The one we trust, in this fight?
If it’s the God and holy parent of Christ Jesus, then she is a covenant God. In baptism God covenants with us, and agrees to wash us clean from our old life, and desires for a false power, by drowning us and raising us up to new life, a life of forgiveness in the love and grace of God, joining us to the death and resurrection of Christ, that we may never fear death again. Now, we are named and claimed by the One who comes to us as ‘the forgiving servant.’ We are called to be leaders and representatives, shining lights, of this new way, the way of love, which alone can heal the world.
On the cross, Jesus gave his life away for the sake of this new world, binding up the power of Satan, so that we may follow in Jesus’ path, and walk in his ways.
Living in this covenant, the power of Satan’s house will crumble, and the “king of kings” will reign forever in the community of the faithful.
Let us rejoice in the new realm that the Strong One has inaugurated: for us, in us, and through us. And let us live our lives powerfully.