Mark 3:24

When a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot last;


o confusing satan
what a brilliant
simple strategy
get a word
to fight itself
meaning this and that
until fist finds nose
and we can’t go home again
a little mix-up here
a small misusage there
sibboleths and shibboleths
of their own design
a backward hat or tiara
signs without words
all get in the act
yes quite brilliant
justified rightness
so easily exploited
so many mini-explosions
teeter relatives
totter nations
until common good
whimpers away


Suppose that the leader of a nation, even a nation of apprentice demons such as Wormwood, would collude against its military arm.

In such a kingdom, this traitorous act would bring about a civil war as demons desire presence as much as you or I. No one wants to simply be cannon-fodder.

This point is one made long ago with writing on a wall (Daniel 5). Daniel dealt with a divided kingdom. Here the allusion comes around as more than a one-to-one rebuttal, but is deep irony.

The words on the wall—MENE, TEKEL, PARES—means your days have been numbered, your significance come up short, and you are divided.

Philip Carrington, According to Mark: A Running Commentary on the Oldest Gospel, states “pharsin [pares] means ‘divided’, and is identical with the word Pharisee, the ‘separated’ sect.” He follows this with two questions you may hear under Jesus’ response to the Pharisee Investigation Team from occupied Jerusalem: “Has Satan’s kingdom gone ‘Pharisee’? Is the writing on the wall?”

This is word-play with a vengeance. A nice, quiet parable this is not. When listening in to Mark, the urgency felt is of life-and-death quality. Whether doing good and receiving a conspiracy or gathering internal leadership that contains a betrayer, paying attention to the little things begins to reveal significant considerations: where is a good message grounded? What resistance will it face? How best can it be implemented in a trickster or adversarial setting?

Mark 3:23

So Jesus called them to him, and answered them in parables, “How can Satan drive out Satan?


when backed into a corner
it is always good to have
a storyteller on your side
for mute facts and figures
are ripe props for ventriloquists

a prayer has it easy
a quickie to St. Jude will do
after all god’s in charge
bring attention to a need
and leave it in good hands

but a storyteller o a storyteller
I wouldn’t want to be one
has to dive into their wilderness
of more stories than prayers
to find which fits the crime

is it a riddle this time
a shaggy dog tale
an ancient myth recast
what vehicle could possibly carry
my heart within your heart


Parables come with explanations and without. There is a tendency for them to be presented as though a lawyer were using them during a trial.

It is important to not simply take them as tales or morality plays, but as organizing principles.

The accusation has been made in the public arena: Jesus can deal with demons because he is a confidant of the chief demon.

This is not a matter that can be volleyed back and forth among surrogates but needs a face-to-face encounter. So those who are accused need to find a debate forum where this can be dealt with. Jesus calls people, including his accusers, together to make his case.

Ched Myers says, “Parables were understood in Jewish tradition as metaphorical stories with thinly veiled political meanings (see Numbers 24; Ezekiel 17)”. Piece by piece Jesus will begin constructing a political response to a political accusation.

“You have been heard to say that I cast out demons because I have demonic power. This cannot hold together without explaining how it is that a Screwtape by any name can do a good that would undermine its basic mission to foul life up. So, in your own words, how does a Satan destroy a Satan?”

Here you might begin to hear a variety of responses. To each one a persistent reply can be made: “The question is, ‘How does a Satan destroy a Satan?’.

This is but prelude to a cascade of observations that will become a key metaphor of Jesus work—assurance of abundance.

Mark 3:22

The teachers of the Law, who had come down from Jerusalem, said, “He has Beelzebul in him! He drives the demons out by the help of their chief.”


commitment signatures
a needed legal nicety
for a final solution

familial support broken
official arbiters engaged
it won’t be long

there’s always a diagnosis
devil is as devil does
an unbreakable tautology


Oops. Another quick shift that sandwiches in a related scene. This is a common Marcan technique, so always be ready for a story within a story.

Since Jesus’ larger family is Israel, this continues and expands an intra-family argument.

The House Un-Pharisaical Committee has sent a sub-committee to Capernaum to investigate extra-regular healings. This exacerbates the situation through accusation and provocation.

Jesus is out of his mind—possessed by the chief of the demons he is exorcising.

This accusation is not made once, but repeated and repeated as the concept of a Big Lie told over and over is as old as Eden. Just as in any other time of post-truth where anything can be made up without fear of challenge, life is about being the first to blame. In contemporary terms, Jesus is charged with having the mind of a terrorist for an amorphous terror is one that cannot be rationally rebutted.

In the polarized times of the late first century or here in the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is a typical power play to play one another off against the rest, weakening everyone. An early accusation to provoke a response of outrage is only too expected.

Without any notice we are back in the wilderness with a testing of a good message in a world for whom Jesus’ way is sheer insanity. Here only an authoritarian can oust an authoritarian, only political power will counter political power, and only a stronger military can defeat a strong military. While each of these are demonstratively false, they carry the weight of our fear experience to mean we will be one of the first to be destroyed unless we will excuse standing up for ourself or someone else with a claim that our use of power will put us in a better position to be kind later.

In the introduction of official investigators with an agenda that will justify their presence, we see a key element to making change—telling a better story by taking such entrenchment quite lightly.

Mark 3:21

When his relatives heard of it, they went to take charge of him, for they said that he was out of his mind.


sometimes a family runs away
from one who cannot be explained

such a secret always weighs
awaiting inopportune revealment

until the only choice is to run nearer
to attempt an intervention

from both sides crazy is untenable
no wonder murder and suicide abound


“Those along with him” can connote “followers”, “friends”, or “family” come to seize Jesus. This sounds very much like where we left things on the mountain—with Judas who would betray.

Such betrayal comes along when one controversy too many arises for our comfort. This is an everyday betrayal that stands right up there with an extra-special betrayal into the hands of an enemy. It can show up with singular or repeated denials of affirmation, association, or support. Just a little argument about position with someone else within the ranks can also turn out to betray a good message we would otherwise ally ourselves with.

When we are out of arguments to support our desire to have things and others go our way, one of the first logical fallacies we fall back on is argumentum ad hominum, making the other into a straw-man or caricature and debating against this illusive someone rather than consider our own greed. American politics has devolved to this state as its standard.

We know all about comment trolls and if we have not been one, we have received messages from one or many more.

A clearer message here is not that “he’s out of his mind” but that “he’s not in our mind”. We see what we see and claim it as the best way to look at a situation. Were we to look back at the track record of our claim to insight and wisdom, we would, hopefully, be a bit more circumspect and humble.

Lines are being drawn within the followers and families of Jesus, following the explicit beginning of a conspiracy to rig things against him by the religious and political leaders a mere fifteen verses prior.

Whether people are concerned about Jesus not having time to eat or with the style of his messaging, we are well into an inappropriate response of power (cultural) to power (individual).

Mark 3:20

Jesus went into a house; and again a crowd collected, so that they were not even able to eat their food.


every house
carries a wilderness
under its slate
or roof of fronds
exorcism and blessing
a daily need

a nightly dream
lingers through the day
a tired response
forgotten thank you
a guest or party
extends

in some room
another encounter
with too much or
not the right enough
scarcity can be dealt with
but o that abundance

one healing
or seventy
sets a center
disrupting stasis
circling outward
to an emperor


We have quickly changed locale from lake to mountain to a house. Surrounded by a great cloud of need, the gathering of an inner-circle comes back down the mountain to find the never-ending work as present as ever.

When a crowd “again” (palin) gathers it gives opportunity to reflect on what has happened every other time a crowd gathered around Jesus and those who responded to his call to follow.

Not only is there no rest for the weary, the wearying task is ever the more wearying with a lack of time to breathe quietly or eat leisurely or converse convivially. There is only a proto-Protestant Work Ethic to attend to.

There is a sense in which we are in a Groundhog Day cycle of repeating the same old pattern.

“House” and “Crowd” can act as a relief for each other. A house is simply not zoned for business. The scale of intent and lack of resource is too large to overcome. A house is a suitable setting for hospitality and clarifying relationship, though there is nothing automatic about a setting and a result.

Though the energy seems to be with the crowd, the arc of Mark’s announcement continues on with questions about house and home. The crowd will become a witness, not an initiator of action.

Some leadership issues have been dealt with on the mountain—who is the Rock and who the Betrayer. We are about to further clarify family/communal relations in a house—what breaks us apart and where is our solidarity located.

Mark 3:19

and Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed him.


even the one not to be named
is named in foreshadow

eventually this last one
will play a leading role

the scene is set but not stolen
by being played too early

a teller today wouldn’t give away
this information but presume it

as institutions flutter by
beginning stories become boring

what betrayal will next reveal
am I called and sent to join Judas


Judas gets his own verse. Try a midrash on Judas as someone exorcised for greed, who slowly backslid. In Eleven chapters this will play itself out.

In the meantime we have opportunity to reflect on betrayal which here is a handing over to be judged or imprisoned (exiled, set aside).

Betrayals come in quiet forms of not objecting as well as in formal ways that have a tangible payoff in communal approval or some amount of quid for an act showing your privilege over someone else. These non- and intentional acts are basic affirmations that community is to be homogenized on the basis of my qualities or desires. Implicit in this is an understanding that where advantage can be gained over another it must be followed. This sort of capitalizing on another’s weakness shows up in economic capitalism’s dictum that short-term profit takes preference over all other value measurements.

This foreshadowing of a later betrayal raises questions about predestination and fate. Don’t leave this verse too quickly.

It raises questions about Jesus’ judgment and the healings that Mark has recorded to date.

We are also faced with our own judgment about giving up on people and the way we interact with free-will when it is in the court of someone else. And now we are back to quiet betrayals, people deserve what they get.

Questions about our involvement in setting other people up, of allowing them to face the consequences of their actions, of judging worth on the basis of results, and any number of other communal fractures are deep—how do we wish to be engaged when we break faith with another or a group other than ourself? Do our responses vary according to the perceived value of the action and its results?

Mark 3:18

Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot,


a horde of names
crawl up the screen
as credits roll

most folks get up and leave
without a brief honoring
of what it took to produce today

since this is an old production
we early see support people
in scenes brought to you by The Twelve

in the silent a rock logo is used
in the talkies rolling thunder signifies
in days to come an event horizon will do

do note no animals were harmed
by those whose story was shown
be ready for the post-credit Easter Egg

through our work we find a place
where our name is known and noted
thank you for being the best you


There are many tangled webs here as we listen in to this list and compare it with other lists. Perhaps we can let it lie lightly with an understanding that followers of Jesus come with a variety of gifts appropriate for particular times.

The different lists reveal a very diverse second circle beyond Peter, James, and John—one that includes women and expands in each generation. Each list is accurate in its time and place. The gifts needed for the well-being of the whole shift over time. To get caught insisting one list has it over all the others is to fall prey to a misplaced sense of order and hierarchy.

Those only heard of once played their important part, alongside those mentioned twice, thrice, or more. This leaves plenty of room for current lists of followers to also be more open than simply the official leaders in a given moment. This would also have an impact on those who would legislate the absence of leaders because of one characteristic or another (gender, race, orientation to start the list).

It is worth spending time with a good dictionary of the bible to review this list, knowing that it is but the tip of a few selected in accord with the tenor of the times (patriarchy). The very anonymity of some may give permission in our day to acknowledge our blind-spots when it comes to the many gifts needed at any given time and in any given circumstance. Many disciples; many expressions of a living spirit moving where it will.

Mark 3:17

James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John (to whom he gave the name of Boanerges, which means the Thunderers),


lighting strike
sparked
in a moment
lasting no longer

connecting
earth and sky
revealing
stored energy

too fast
for eye
lingering
in ear

leaving
fresh scent
heart stopping
thunderclap

may beloved
lightening
be your
thunder


The various listings of disciples gives fits every time we try to link one list to another. This verse exemplifies the difficulties.

Nicknames are extended past Simon/Peter/Rock to the next two of Jesus’ “kitchen cabinet”—James and John. This tradition of second names ends with “Boanerges” that has no good translation.

As “thunderers”, are James and John, and, by extension, all followers, to thunder out a message of goodness? Or are the more entertaining suggestions of The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible more apt—“they either spoke boldly and vigorously, experienced a sudden awakening, or perhaps survived a lightening strike.

It would seem that Jesus H. Christ and George W. Bush at least have a penchant for nicknames in common. [Go ahead: smile.]

While we are paused here, there are ancient traditions regarding twins that may show up in the calling of brothers (twins?) and others in pairs. There is also the sending out of followers in pairs.

There is sometimes a sense of twins giving us insight into the human/divine relationship with both having both attributes or one caring the human and the other carrying the divine. Depending on how far back one goes there are tales that will support every combination. The Cult of Twins (Dioskouroi) was still being noted in the church by the fifth-century pope Gelasius I. The connection with Castor and Pollux and at least Pollux’s father Zeus (a God of Thunder) adds to unnumbered stories that can be triggered by the uncertainty of Boanerges.

Additional connections have been noted with a fourth-century depiction of the iconic twins alongside the Apostles, Lazarus, and Peter [beginning references for these last two paragraphs can be found in the Wikipedia article, “Castor and Pollux”].

Mark 3:16

So he appointed the Twelve – Peter (which was the name that Jesus gave to Simon),


there are twelve
among them Simon aka Peter
a rock of many names
always standing at the last
the Mary Magdalene
of male disciples
needing special counsel
intuitive impulsive
resistant repentive

in turn we each
have another twelve
we order by our time and
energy with them
in each we see more
than their name can carry
revealing us to us
through their responses
less and more than we thought


The Common English Bible (and the web-based Open English Bible used in this blog) we have used as the translation of Mark is here out of sync with older translations by starting with “Peter” and then noting this as Jesus’ inside-the-family name for Simon. Most begin with the Hebraic tradition of “Simon” and explaining that he has been nicknamed, Peter.

To try to get at this a bit more, reflect on your own name and ways that people know you at home, among friends, at school, at work, and in other public settings.

Which of these various ways of being named do you claim for yourself? What emotional distinction do you make between them?

In Mark, Peter doesn’t fare all that well. One moment, a hero, and the next, an adversary. In the end he is as absent as everyone.

We can celebrate Peter’s growth and commit to continuing our own deepening of what we understand to be true. While there are sparks of greatness in Peter, it is not until after Mark has finished challenging readers that Peter can be seen as a “rock” which is suggested by his new name. Peter does become reliable, a foundation, a person of steadiness with his early leadership, counter-cultural vision, preaching, and prison stories.

Peter will come to exemplify an important kind of rock as he faces new community challenges. Does Jesus reach out to those not like him? Is this what a sense of belovedness within and without is like? The keeping to a deeper value over a shallower one comes to Peter in a vision and its subsequent implementation at the Council of Jerusalem that opens Jesus’ teachings to the Gentiles (Acts 10, 11, 15).

“Rock” is not unchangeable. Dealing with wilderness can come through requiring Order (limiting converts) or expecting Dignity (expanding family). A choice here affects revival in today’s wilderness.

Mark 3:15

and with power to drive out demons.


you’ll be tempted
to play a sparkly card
to garner attention
a soteriologic card
striking sparks from collisions
of evil with everything else
is mightily attractive

it is this very grave magnetism
that will occlude everything else
until you only see demonic collisions
and your hammer sees only nails
it’s true enough to attract attention
but it is vanity just old vanity
yes tempted


There have been ways of organizing scripture that go way back, our current versification begins with a Greek New Testament printed by Robert Estienne in 1551 (see Wikipedia article on Estienne).

It would be intriguing to know what was going on in the culture of church or society when chapters and verses were added to an otherwise run-on text that would put a verse break here—separating teaching from exorcism.

In the previous verse there was also a mention of “healing” which is no longer thought to a reliable transmission of the text. This would mean distinguishing the expulsion of demons from standard healing as well as from preaching/teaching/witnessing/proclaiming.

Regardless of this versification frustration, this remains an important moment in Mark. The three-fold process of staying close to the source of belovedness Jesus experienced, making the implications of that belovedness of all creation clear through word and deed, and making corrections where these have been forgotten is similar to the General Rules of United Methodism which is presented in reverse order: do no harm, do good, stay partnered with G*D.

Whether lived forward or backward in terms of first, second, and third, the gifts of grounding, support, and correction remain critical components of dealing with being in a wild place. These tools come as a result of wilderness testing and have been reliable down through ages and cultures.

A chart may help to visualize this in your own life. Draw your own. Keep it for a month. Let it inform you about your life.

date what grounded me today?
was it belovedness?
where did I reveal my values in word & deed? how did I relieve pain, loss, trauma, bondage?