Jesus has been busy. After getting baptized and tempted he called disciples, he cast out demons, healed the sick, cleansed lepers, forgave sins, dined with sinners, and there was last week’s challenge to the Pharisees. He has been dis-organizing life. He has been knocking down the rules by which his world functions. Word about him has spread. Now the scribes—think religious experts with government backing—come to deal definitively with Jesus, and his family comes to “seize” him. It’s the same thing the authorities will do in the Passion. The government envoys win the race.
The government envoys address the crowd. Rather than apprehend Jesus, they seek to discredit him. “We have determined that Jesus of Nazareth is possessed by Satan, the most powerful of the demons. He should be considered possessed and extremely dangerous. People should not interact with Jesus.” Jesus comes out of the house and says, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” In other words, “Why would the most powerful of demons expel himself from people? That would be self-defeating. That would be like if the scribes were experts in God’s Law but used it to hurt God’s people, or if the priests had holy work but used the Temple to get rich. But that would never happen, would it?”
Then, Jesus makes this cryptic statement. “But no one is able to enter the house of a strong one and plunder his vessels unless he first ties up the strong one, and then he can plunder his house.” Mark’s gospel is full of cross references to itself; this is a reference to the cleansing of the Temple. After Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers and the chairs of the dove salesmen, Mark tells us he would not permit anyone to carry vessels through the Temple. The Temple at Passover is a frantically paced ritual slaughterhouse, and through it priests carry vessels of blood, meat, fat, incense, ashes, or hot coals. Jesus forbids their use. He shuts down sacrifice. He shuts down the whole Temple. In a sense, Jesus binds the strong one. He goes to the center of the kingdom and the religion, and …stops it. Everything that organizes reality and makes sense of the world for the people, Jesus stops. Those of us who are comfortable with life may squirm at how easily Jesus upsets what we hold dear, but this is how the earliest Christians understood Jesus. He dis-organizes life. He comes, as Paul says, “like a thief in the night,” or, in his own words, binding the strong man and looting his vessels.
Jesus isn’t finished, though. Not long after Jesus cleanses the Temple, he is seized and later bound by the High Priest and taken to Pilate for execution. We know that in the story Jesus had already bound the strong one. Think about that for a minute. All this seizing and binding of Jesus, it’s kind of a waste of time. It’s pointless. Jesus already won. Jesus already bound them. Maybe they’re so “bound” that they’re bound to do this. Maybe they’re bound to detain him. Maybe Jesus has revealed how the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees are bound by sin. They’ve constructed a world in which they must respond to Jesus as they do. They’ve constructed a world in which the grace of God is a threat that must be stopped by force. There are purity regulations and rules about who is in and who is out, and all the rules point to the chief priests, scribes, and pharisees as the ones on top. Their sin is rearranging the world for their own ends, and now they’re bound in it. It’s the same as Adam’s sin.
In the First Reading we read the confrontation that ensued upon Adam’s sin. Adam’s sin is treating God’s word and creation as things Adam can manipulate for his own ends. The temptation was Adam wants to be God. God had set up some healthy boundaries: people are to till the soil of the garden, they were not to eat from that one tree, they were to be partners, to help each other, to trust God and be content being creatures. Instead, Adam puts himself in the place of God. He abuses the power and trust that God has given him.
That’s the sin of the priests, scribes, and Pharisees. They’ve manipulated God’s word and God’s creation for their own ends. They’ve done it so thoroughly and for so long that it seems normal. Sin so old and thorough you can’t see it unless someone points it out to you. That’s systemic sin, not bad things you do but a structure that distorts God’s creation to benefit some over others, and that is so normal that even people who are hurt by it accept it and defend it. I think of the haunting line from the verse that follows our First Reading, when God tells Eve, “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” This isn’t God’s plan; it’s a consequence of sin. God says, “You were supposed to be the man’s partner, but because you’ve adopted this distorted worldview you’ll actually be okay with being subordinate to him.”
The ELCA is crafting a Social Statement on Women and Justice. I was able to attend a review hearing on it at Synod Assembly last weekend. The statement identifies patriarchy as sin in this systemic sense. It’s not that all men are chauvinists, or that some are some aren’t. Patriarchy is a system that binds everyone. It is dominated by men, identified with men, and views men as superior to women. It also binds men. It forces men to live with an illusion of superiority (and then they can’t understand why it doesn’t play out that way). It sets artificial definitions of masculinity, and if men don’t match those they can be targets of hatred or violence. It tells men emotions are “effeminate” and therefore wrong. And if men try to resist—break out of their roles or ally with women who want to break out of theirs—patriarchy punishes them. The system binds everyone.
And the system is so thorough that we don’t even necessarily notice it. You see that sort of thing at play in Jesus’ family. I mentioned before: they come to seize him, Mark’s term for political detainment. It’s what the priests do to Jesus. Jesus’ family are as desperate to stop his grace driven mission as the scribes and Pharisees are. They’re desperate to stop him because he threatens the systemic sin they’ve grown to love. I said before: if we’re comfortable with life, Jesus today makes us squirm. If we’re one of the unclean, impure outsiders he’s dined with, we’re excited.
If we are serious about our baptismal identity, we know that however much Jesus’ words may make us squirm, we are the unclean impure outsiders with whom he dines. We may be comfortable now, but it’s a comfort that comes from a silly attempt to rearrange the world with us in God’s place. Silly, because in terms of geological time we are barely here. God is here for all of it. Sinful systems are like the chief priests binding Jesus. We’re all alive, here, and experience time passing; God holds everything and every time. Whatever we’re doing right now, God holds all of us—our life and our death. In Baptism, Jesus joined with us in death. I opened by saying Jesus has been busy. The first thing he did was get baptized. The first thing he did was join us in what awaits each of us. When we were baptized, God took our death into God. And if you think lepers, demons, and sinners are unclean in Jesus’ world, the dead are super unclean in that world. (That’s why in John’s gospel you hear that the leaders want Jesus’ body taken down from the cross: it’s not out of respect for the dead—they have none; it’s that they don’t want a dead thing polluting their festival.) However we’ve arranged the world to make ourselves look good and feel comfortable now as we experience time, God already has us when we are as unclean as we can get.
That means God already knows how you don’t measure up. Whether it’s the world we’ve rearranged to benefit only a few and you don’t fit, or whether it’s the world God made and you’re trying to rearrange it, God knows. God already holds in God your shortcomings and your failures and your attempts to be God and the simple fact that you will end someday. And God sits down to eat with that. God dines with sinners today, thank God. However you’ve chosen to organize your life, God knows who you are and God wants to have breakfast with you. This meal this morning is God eating and drinking with us. Jesus dis-organizes the world for you.
We approach the table and I can hear the Holy Spirit say, “So, I hear you’re hopelessly entangled in the patriarchy Jesus smashed. Here: have some forgiveness of sin. It’ll start to break you out of this.” She keeps talking: “I’ve noticed you keep trying to be God. Here: drink some salvation. Unlike your rearranging of reality for your own benefit, this stuff actually works.” And for a moment we are dis-organized. We are like the man and the woman in the garden: partners with each other, here to tend our little corner of creation and let God handle the being God. And the Spirit says to us, “This is life. This is what God wants for you, and for her, and for him, and for them. And this is what Jesus is going to keep on doing for you until time itself ceases and the dead are raised, and this kind of life is all there is.”