As I prepared to write my sermon this week, I kind of got a little bit of the giggles. Verse 25 says “And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” and for a brief moment I thought about giving a sermon pointed to all of you that live in divided houses. You know, half Hawkeye fans, half Cyclone fans. And then the Mayor decided to leave town, and honestly, I don’t care about any of that. Sorry.
I know it’s kind of hard to tell what is going on in this story today, so there’s a chance I am going to do a bit more teaching than preaching today. It’s especially strange because our Gospel text today starts literally right in the middle of a sentence. Jesus is returning home. There are so many people at his homecoming that they can’t even reach out their arms to get something to eat. Can you imagine? Now, you might think that the people of Nazareth would be excited for Jesus to come home. The local newspaper, the Nazareth Times, probably read a headline like “Local Boy Done Good, Returns Home.”
The story would read, “Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph, and of course, God, will return home for a brief visit. Jesus has kept busy in his ministry thus far by spending 40 days in the wilderness where he avoided being tempted by Satan. He has surrounded himself with a group of rag-tag firshermen (among others). Many of you probably heard how he cast out an unclean spirit of a man in Capernaum, healed many, and spent some time teaching and preaching in the synagogue. Jesus said that he is looking forward to returning home, getting some of his momma’s cooking and resting (especially on the Sabbath.)” That’s how the story should have gone.
Instead, Jesus was greeted with accusations of being Satan himself. Those in town say that he has Beelzebub. A quick side note. Last week I talked about being a chaplain on the mental health unit. I had some really lovely life-giving experiences. However, not everything was rosy. I once got called “the mouthpiece of Satan” by one of the patients. That was shocking to say the least. Jesus handled being accused of being Satan way better than I did. “Welcome home, Jesus! You are a demon who casts out demons!!” Our reading today comes early on in Jesus’ ministry, but already the scribes and pharisees are looking for a reason to arrest and crucify him. “Why don’t we call him evil?” they must have whispered to one another. It didn’t gain much traction.
Jesus rebukes them, simply saying “how can evil cast out evil?” So, I know this is a very simple comparison, so forgive me. But it’s as if, while doing laundry, I say to myself “I am going to get this stain out by just staining the whole shirt.” Evil against evil makes for an unsteady foundation says Jesus. Then he goes on to say something kind of strange “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” We don’t use the word “plunder” very much anymore. But to plunder means to take goods; we might now use the “rob.” See, Jesus has already been tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days and defeated him. Jesus has already defeated evil. Jesus has already tied up the strong man and taken from him what mattered most: us. By defeating evil, Jesus has freed us.
And Jesus does what he does because he is empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has stirred within him, guiding, leading, and compelling him forward. So, it is the Holy Spirit that is in him, not Satan. By calling him Beelzebub, and accusing him of evil, the scribes have committed blasphemy. I want to make that really clear. The issue here isn’t that the scribes have sinned, it’s that they have committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. I like this translation that is found in The Message “‘Listen to this carefully. I’m warning you. There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. But if you persist in your slanders against God’s Holy Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.’ He gave this warning because they were accusing him of being in league with Evil.”
And perhaps the Scribes were angry, or confused, or worried. We don’t know. We’re not told how the Scribes felt. But most likely, the Scribes were too busy to have noticed the good news in all of this. Because remember, God did not send us Jesus to judge. God gave us Jesus so that we may know what it is like to be loved. Jesus said, “truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter.” In case you didn’t know what an amazing guy this Jesus was, in the middle of being accused of being evil, he promises to all those who are there (and remember, there were quite a few) that they will be forgiven. What kind of savior is this?
Most of us, I’m guessing, when accused of being something we’re not, would fight tooth and nail to change the perception. But our Savior Jesus, the one who marched to his death carrying his own instrument of torture, our Savior Jesus, the one who didn’t fight his execution sentence, our Savior Jesus, who stretched out his arms of forgiveness on the cross, declares that all sins are forgiven. Amidst this really strange homecoming, this is the good news. I want to make sure you hear the good news too, brothers and sisters. You are forgiven. Before you can even ask for forgiveness, you are forgiven. If you get busy berating yourself for what you think is something “stupid,” remember that you are already forgiven. Before you start to argue with God that you don’t think you deserve forgiveness, remember that none of us deserves it and that’s what makes forgiveness so amazing and yet so offensive.
This table behind me is set. It is a strange kind of homecoming as well. When we eat the body and blood, the bread and wine, we are eating and drinking forgiveness. This forgiveness has already been promised to you, is waiting for you, and will sustain you for the journey. Jesus forgives us, but also asks us to follow him. The journey to follow Jesus starts with a homecoming, with arms outstretched, with healing and forgiveness proclaimed, and with filled bellies.