The Naked Man – pt. 28

Second Temple Jerusalem - cropped

If you are new to this series, you can read the introduction here.

Yiftach stroked his beard thoughtfully as he spoke. “It is interesting that Jesus did not respond in kind.” Rachel turned in his direction. “What do you mean?” Yiftach responded, “Well, when we lived up in the hills of Galilee with Simon Bar Giora, we used to come down into the villages and towns looking for food, especially during the winter. During one such visit, the synagogue leader in that village confronted Simon, accusing him of much the same thing the scribes did of Jesus. He made it clear he did not approve of our actions – he said we were opposed to the purposes of God.” He smiled wryly at the memory. “Simon gave as good as he got – their argument drew quite a crowd as I recall.” He turned back to Mark. “But Jesus didn’t throw insults back at the scribes. He just pointed out the foolishness of their argument. ‘Why would the arch-demon cast out demons? He’d be fighting against himself!’” Yiftach surveyed the group. “And we all know where civil war gets us…”

Rachel now turned to Mark with another question. “So, if Satan is the strong man, then does that make Jesus the stronger man, who can take his ‘goods’ – the demons? Is that the meaning of the parable?” Mark shook his head slowly. “I confess that is what I thought Jesus meant at first. I did not come to understand what Jesus was really talking about until much later.” His eyes swept the gathering. “Yiftach is right – Jesus did not defend himself against the accusations of the scribes. Instead, he went on the offensive. ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.’” He paused, and turned to look beyond the courtyard, in the direction of the Temple. “And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

Simeon spoke up. “The domain of the Accuser: a kingdom and a house.” He looked at Mark appraisingly. “The ideological foundations of the scribes – the Davidic state and the temple. Or, if you like, a kingdom, and a house.” “Yes,” Mark said earnestly, “yes, I believe that is what Jesus meant. This parable concerned the scribes, and laid the foundation for the escalating conflict between Jesus and the scribes. When Jesus entered Jerusalem the week during which he would be crucified, he went to the temple – the house – and began to cast out those who were buying and selling in the temple. And he would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple. The next day, once again in the temple, he said, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, which will not be torn down.’”

“’That house will not be able to stand,’” murmured Rachel. “Indeed,” responded Mark. “And Jesus would go on to say that the true Lord of the house would return and reclaim his domain. Because those who currently occupy the house are not faithfully representing G_d, and – as Jesus began the parable by saying – as Satan cannot literally cast out Satan from the house, it seems another must do so. Because the scribes were not going to change.”

Rachel leaned forward. “So you’re saying that when Jesus cast out the merchants from the temple he was acting out his own parable?” “Exactly,” said Mark. For Jesus is the stronger man – as heralded by John the Baptizer, remember – who in the power of the Holy Spirit intended to overthrow the rule of the ‘strong man’: the scribal establishment.” “As was foreshadowed,” interjected Simeon, “when Jesus cast out the unclean spirit in the synagogue, revealing his authority in contrast to that of the scribes.”

“And then,” Mark continued, “Jesus dealt the final blow to the whole scribal tradition. Blanket pardon for sin – even blasphemy! With one exception – to attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. Because the scribes were saying, ‘he has an unclean spirit.’”

Yiftach leaned forward, speaking eagerly, “So Jesus turned the tables completely upon his opponents – it is the scribes who are aligned with Satan and who stand against God’s liberation!” “Yes,” replied Mark, his voice growing louder as his indignation grew. “To see someone who has been oppressed by demons – or by demonic social structures – liberated and restored to the community and then use theology to somehow make it questionable is what is unpardonable. To speak for the G_d of the Exodus and then reject G_d’s liberating work taking place right before you because it is taking place outside your sanctioned system is what is unpardonable. To suppress efforts to humanize the demonized is what is unpardonable. The scribes’ refusal to see what G_d was doing in Jesus and worse, attribute it to Satan, meant they had closed themselves off to the grace of God.”

Mark’s words hung in the air for a long moment, his face flushed with passion. Miryam’s voice broke the ensuing silence, even though she spoke softly. “We must pray for the scribes of this generation, that they will not close themselves off to what God has done – and is still doing.” As Benyamin’s face leapt to mind, Mark visibly deflated. “Yes, mother. We must pray for them. We must pray for all those we know and love. We must pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”

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