Unbinding the Strong Man: Is Peace Possible?

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.  (Mk 3:24-25)

Jesus’ critics, witnessing his strange power to bring healing and grace into the most broken of human situations, have accused him of being possessed by an unclean spirit. “By the prince of demons,” they say, “he drives out demons.” Summoning them over, Jesus asks them a straightforward question: “How can Satan drive out Satan?” (Mk 3:22-30)

It is not hard to see the “demons” of division busy at work in society and church. Evidence of their power to pit us against each other is the stuff of daily headlines and the 24-hour cable news cycle. They make war, destroy the earth, splinter families, parishes, governments, and nations, and sell a lot of newspapers.

Indiana.RFRAYet those same demons, as Mark’s Gospel relentlessly reminds us, occupy every person’s stubborn mind and wounded heart, dividing us against our very selves. Who does not wrestle with the unclean spirits of self-doubt, cynicism, apathy, or creeping despair? Who does not secretly fear and wish to hold at bay a certain category of “other”?

To “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit,” Jesus warns, is to let these dark spirits bind and rule our consciousness and dictate our actions. By contrast, to “unbind the strong man,” in Jesus’ vivid imagery, is to set free the power of God who dwells in each of us, male and female alike – the always unexpected, fiercely undomesticated, Spirit of empathy and kinship, welcoming and pardon.

We all harbor unclean spirits. The enemy taunts us from within and from without, daring us to strike back, to pronounce sentence, to win. But the desire for reconciliation, God’s own freedom to unbind the hardening knot of our most trenchant personal and collective sins, lives stronger and deeper in us. We do not have to let Satan win. The face of Christ is there, hidden in light and shadow, calling us forward into our freedom for liberation, mercy, and love.

binding-strongToday, Jesus, and in this Holy Week of your Passion, I bring before you those broken and angry places where my heart is bound and divided: against myself; against family members or co-workers; against people “out there” in society and church. Lord, I ask you to help me keep these spirits at bay, and fill me with your Spirit of patience, mercy, and peace. Help me in all things today, beginning with myself, to be a peacemaker.

Open our eyes to truth and galvanize our courage to seek justice for those who are most feared and marginalized. Unbind our freedom for love so that all may be welcomed into the circle of fellowship.

In you, I am strong, without you, I am weak. Come Lord Jesus, come.

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