Pentecost 3.18 “Stockholm Syndrome, Revisited” Mark 3:20-35
Previously, in the Gospel of Mark: Jesus has been baptized by John and is going around forgiving sins, casting out demons (there were a lot of demons possessing people during Jesus’ 3 year tour, almost as many as loose nukes in 24). He’s healing the tortured, proclaiming the Kingdom come. Before our reading this morning, we’ve just heard how many unclean spirits He casts out and that whenever they saw Jesus, they fell down before Him and cried out, saying: “You are the Son of God!”. That had to be unsettling, for everyone…
Then, Jesus selects 12 from among the disciples who tramped after Him and named them Apostles, “Sent Ones” literally, with power to cast out demons, and heal, by forgiving sins. It’s right after this that the multitude swarms around Him so that He and the newly commissioned Apostles can’t even eat. And when Jesus’ “own people” heard about the ruckus, they decide He’s out of His mind(!) and went down to bring Him home and get Him some help. I find it interesting that Mary, His mother, is specifically mentioned as being with His brothers who find Him and call Him out (literally). And He responds by saying “My mother and My brothers are those who do the will of God (which, BTW, is to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of all our sin!). So much for Mary being sinless, right? Like so many, she seems to have believed, faltered, disbelieved, opposed, and then, at the end, come around, apparently, rather quietly. Nothing is said of Mary at all in the Book of Acts and make of that what you will. We do see His half-brother James in the Book of Acts as an opponent of St. Paul and St. Peter and their pure Gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone for Christ’s sake alone. So much for family values in the New Testament(!), as Jesus says most families will be at odds with each other over the Gospel. His own family was clearly no exception.
Anyway, back to Beelzebub and his demon hordes… As Mary and Jesus’ brothers are racing over for an “intervention”, the scribes from Jerusalem come down (Jesus seems to be somewhere around the Sea of Galilee at this time). They have an answer to these spectacular deeds of power Jesus is performing: “He has Beelzebub” and “By the ruler of the demons, He casts out demons.” A clever theory with powerful explanatory power!
Jesus, instead of going, “Oh, huh! You have Beelzebub, dude!” as most of us would do, or expect, Jesus seems to laugh in their face. “Clever theory! One problem with it that I can see: How can Satan cast out Satan? If He’s at war with Himself, His Kingdom cannot stand. Divided houses don’t last long, and if He’s fighting Himself, well, it’s all over for him, really.” Jesus, I note, prefers indirect communication on the whole—likes telling cryptic little stories, making somewhat intricate inside jokes, rather than laying all His cards on the table, face up.
Jesus is quick with one of those little stories, giving a different reading of these events: it’s not a civil war, but a hostage drama: “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. And then he will plunder his house.” After an “Amen!” to the story (literally, that’s what Jesus says in Greek, not “assuredly” but “Amen!” Maybe He chants it?) we get some plain, straight talk: “I say to you: all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.” And Mark comments: “because they said: “He has an unclean spirit.”
Interesting! Jesus appears actually to confirm part of the scribes’ theory(!): they surmise that they are seeing in Jesus spiritual power that is not of this world—that it’s something supernatural, extraterrestrial, uncanny, spooky. But, they credit “Beelzebub” the Lord of the Flies for it (kinda opposite from how he works in the famous book!): the Prince of Darkness, Milton’s old pal whom we met in our Old Testament reading today. (BTW, since the Serpent’s punishment was to crawl on his belly, eat dust, don’t you think he originally moved differently? He must have! Probably, he not only could walk, but had wings and could fly. And breathe fire. Like a dragon! That’s my take. Your reading may differ. And be more boring. You decide…!).
Anyway, Jesus laughs and doesn’t contradict directly, but indirectly. He’s like: “You’re onto something! I’m not from around here. You are dealing, in Me, with something supernatural, spooky, other-worldly. But does this look like Satan or his Maker and Master? Maybe I’m breaking into Satan’s house because I’ve had enough of His nonsense and crimes? Maybe I’ve got him tied him up, and have Richardson (from that show, 24!) working on him with his toolbox. You really don’t want to know all those details, so I won’t give ‘em! But what if you’ve got it wrong? What if the real hero’s here, looting Satan’s whole house…(!?!)
“What if: some of you have Stockholm Syndrome and you’ve got it real bad!” [For those who are unfamiliar, “Stockholm Syndrome” is when kidnap victims are brainwashed into alliance with and defense of their captors. In Stockholm 1973, bank robbers took hostages who later refused to testify against, but defended their captors. Patty Hearst is perhaps a better-known example of this malady]. Jesus only says “Stockholm Syndrome” in the NIV (I think). But it’s consistent with His message: we’ve been kidnapped, deceived, held hostage by the devil for so long, we’ve formed a very sick alliance with (and defense of!) the old Beast-Master. Milton, in “Paradise Lost”, infamously seems more on the devil’s side than God’s, Personally, I think Milton and Patty Hearst maybe have a lot in common…
Anyway, some have parsed the “all blasphemies will be forgiven except the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” as granting us a pass on Trinitarian Nicene Orthodoxy as long as we’re “slain in the Spirit”. And uh…nooo. Not exactly. Jesus has tied up our captor, the devil. He’s plundering the devil’s lair—and we’re part of the plunder! We’re still a bit shaken up from our long ordeal. Our heads aren’t right. We’ve formed a sad, sick alliance with Beelzebub. But, Jesus is a gentle Master Who’s giving us time to heal. Jesus gets us. We might think He’s a bad guy, at first, bursting in Jack Bauer-style to the house where we’re being held, tying up our “host”, Mr. B, sending in Richardson to work on him. It’s OK if we say some tough things at first, some hard and nasty things against Jesus that we will later repent…
But… once we’re out of the hostage situation, had some treatment, been better informed of our captor’s dastardly schemes (and of our Savior’s counterterrorism measures!) if we still call Jesus names, or even if we imagine we can be helpers rather than helpees, save ourselves and others, instead of Jack, er… Jesus doing it all for us; we’ve put ourselves where it’s tough even for Jesus to save us because we can’t tell the good guys from the bad and our “helping” Jesus will only hinder His rescue of us all. Jesus isn’t going to stoop to the Devil’s brainwashing. He will tell us His true Story; but, if we insist on being the heroes instead of rescued hostages that will not end well, at all.
It’s tough: admitting we’ve been taken prisoner, been brainwashed, and confused Jack and Jesus with the terrorists. But Jesus forgives all that, now for everyone! However… if you hang onto your judgment instead of His; Danger, Will Robinson! But we, captivated by Christ’s Story, are set free thereby, are His mother, sisters, brothers enjoying His Peace, surpassing understanding, that guards our hearts and minds in Jesus, our Savior. Amen.