Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “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. (Mk 3:23-25)
Discord and division, if not remedied, will be the diminution or death of any institution. Business partnerships, friendships, and as Jesus points out, even kingdoms, will not thrive or survive if they are deeply divided. The same can be said about democracies whose political parties come to mutual hate, and whose owners and workers come to mutual mistrust. This is an important fact about human nature and the world, but we must acknowledge here that Jesus was speaking a parable.
The parables of Jesus used mundane images to explain spiritual realities. In particular, in the quotation above from the Gospel reading for this 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time Jesus was responding to an accusation by the Jewish scribes that He was possessed by the supreme demon (i.e. Beelzebub) which therefore enabled Him to expel other demons. Sadly, while these Jewish scholars were citing popular belief in a demonic hierarchy, they were undermining their own Messianic prophecy just to discredit the good and gracious works of Jesus.
By doing so they risked committing what Jesus described as the unforgivable sin (Mk 3:29). By describing the activity of Jesus, i.e. the activity of the Holy Spirit, as the activity of the devil, the scribes were committing the one sin which cannot be forgiven if not repented – the sin against the Holy Spirit. In this sin, the person believes deliberatively that a good work of God is a work of evil. Anchored in such belief, the person has set himself against God as anti-Christ. This point cannot be overstated because so many in our present age disfigure the creation of God and see the good works of the Church, for example the defense of marriage and the unborn, as discriminatory, oppressive, and evil. Those who believe this reject the fertile Spirit and flirt dangerously with the unforgiveable sin.
In order to shed light on our selected passage from Sacred Scripture we have placed on our bulletin cover a painting from the St. Francis of Assisi Series of the late-medieval Florentine painter Giotto di Bondone, entitled Exorcism of the Demons at Arezzo (1299). Pictured in this fresco is St. Sylvester, sent to Arezzo by St. Francis who saw demons in the city during a time of civil disorder. Brother Sylvester (standing) performs the sacred ritual while Francis kneels and prays. The scene is split into Church (left background) and State. In front of the city walls is a large fissure in the ground symbolic of the realm of demons and the place they will return after the exorcism. The demons are pictured above the city as they are expelled, while the citizens (seen at the gates) can now return to peaceful activity. All the while the church bell rings in victory.
In this depiction civil unrest or division has been instigated by evil powers. Since Adam this has always been the case. Let us see to it that we do not prefer this urging: to call what is good “evil” and what is evil “good”.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services