The Stronger Man (Mark 3:23-27)

Mark’s Gospel is a breathless account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In the first chapter alone, Jesus calls his disciples, casts out a demon, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, cures “many who were sick” and “drives out many demons.”  It should be of no surprise then, by the third chapter, Jesus is drawing huge crowds.

Much of what Jesus said and did was controversial by the standards of his time and, because of this, Jesus’ public ministry was not treated with cheers by the guardians of the culture. In Mark 3:22, scribes from Jerusalem follow him to Nazareth and accuse him of being “possessed by Beelzebub.” They claim that his mastery over demons is a result of demonic powers. Jesus answers them this way, 


How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house. (Mark 3:23-27)

It seems that when we speak of the devil, modern believers tend to make one of two mistakes. One, they act as if the devil is somehow irrelevant as if he has dropped from existence. This is where the erroneous school of thought, that proclaims the devil to be nothing more than the personification of man’s tendency to choose wrong, comes from. Or they adhere to the second school of error. This is the one in which the devil is seen as an almost cosmic counter force to God. This school sees the devil and Jesus as similar in power and leaves the believer in a helpless state against the army of darkness’ advances.  In short, the devil is ascribed no power, or he is attributed total power. Both are wrong. That is why I love when Jesus speaks of the strong man. 

The devil is real.  He is bad, and he has a fair amount of power. Thus, “strong man.” In a state of demonic possession, a person has come entirely under the influence of this evil. The strong man, the devil, has made the person his home.  Jesus does not deny that the devil has this power. He does not deny the devil’s ability to dominate those who have come under his influence. So, right here, Jesus sets the initial error I alluded to in the last paragraph, straight. But, far from being all-powerful, Jesus then gives insight into how he deals with the demonic.  In short, he binds them. You cannot plunder a strong man’s house unless you first tie him up. So, while Jesus does refer to the devil as the strong man, it is clear that he is the much stronger man. 

So, what is our take away? The devil is real. He is powerful but he is not all powerful. Jesus claims authority over the demonic, and they do as he commands. Far from ignoring them, he binds them and “plunders” their homes. I love that. We need to remember this. In our struggle for holiness, there will be opposition but, we are not helpless. In Christ’s authority, we need to stand firm against every tactic of the evil one. When the demonic whispers corrupt inspiration into our ears, we, like Christ, need to stand in the authority of a son or daughter of the living God, and we need to rebuke the voice of temptation, binding and silencing it in Jesus’ name, casting it away in that same authority.  Far from denying the reality of the devil, we need to understand that our lives are being lived out on a battlefield (Catechism 409), but we also need to know that the evil forces arrayed against us are no match for the Lord.

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Do You Believe Jesus? (Mark 16:17-18)

Do we believe Jesus words?  I think most practicing Catholics would say “yes, of course we do.”  Then they may cite Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”  Or, they might cite Jesus’ words about the Eucharist in John chapter 6:53, “unless you eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood you have no life within you.”  While we may struggle at times, for the most part we get Jesus teachings about the Church and the sacraments. That is where most of our minds jump when asked, “Do you believe Jesus words?”  But what about the things Jesus said about you? What about Jesus words about the life we are called to in him? What about the things Jesus said about the Holy Spirit? Do you believe those words? I’ll give you and example. At the end of Mark’s Gospel Jesus says to the disciples, 

These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16:17-18)

Do you believe Jesus words there? Hopefully, you will never have to handle poisonous snakes, or drink poison. Let’s be clear, Jesus is not saying we should seek such things out. But what about laying hands on the sick? What about engaging spiritual warfare in your own life and the life of your family? Do you believe that God could prompt you to pray over someone and that in His name, they could be healed? Do you believe that you could tell a spirit of lust or accusation that is coming against you to be silent in Jesus name, and command it to leave? 


It is interesting that when Jesus speaks of the supernatural life of his followers, or of the action of the Holy Spirit, we tend to rationalize. Right now you may be thinking, “Well, he was speaking to the Apostles. What he really meant was that the bishops and priests would do this kind of stuff. This is not for the ordinary, everyday catholic, like me.”  Yes it is true the the ordained clergy exercise these gifts in a special way but to say that you as a lay Catholic are not called to this life too is just wrong.  Mark’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus says these words he is speaking to the disciples. This is not specifically addressed to the twelve. It is addressed to all the followers of Christ. You and I are disciples.  You may also be tempted to think, “Well, that was then, and this is now. The world is different now.”  Yes, that is true. The world has changed a lot since the day Jesus spoke these words. But the thing is, Jesus is still the same. He is unchanging. His word is enduring. The fact that we have smartphones now does not mean that somehow the Spirit of the Lord is bound up and inactive.  

A quick reading through Acts of the Apostles will demonstrate that this life Jesus speaks about in Mark 16:17-18 was exactly how the first generation set out. They moved in the power of the Holy Spirit. You may think that phrase sounds a bit fantastic, but again, I am using Jesus words. In Acts, chapter one, Jesus tells those who are gathered before his ascension “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”  The word for power there is less electricity, and more explosive. The Greek word used in the gospel is dunamis. It is the same root word that we use for dynamite. When Jesus speaks of the power of the Spirit coming upon his followers he uses this forceful word to express what he means. Something tangible is taking place. Later in Acts 10, as Peter is speaking, the Holy Spirit falls upon the gentile believers, and it is so obvious that Peter says “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  When the Spirit shows up, people notice.

As modern Catholics we need to be challenged by Jesus words.  Some of the things he said may seem too fantastic to believe.  Perhaps, that is why the Lord gave us the witness of the early Church in Acts and the Epistles.  The truth is, when we reflect upon what Jesus said about the Christian life and compare that to the life of the early Church, it becomes pretty clear that God’s desire for his people is something more than an academic, routine faith. He desires to move in and through us in inexplicable ways.  

So, do you believe Jesus words? Do you believe that God can move in your life in the way Jesus spoke of at the end of Mark’s Gospel?

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