Commentary by Fr Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
The crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain Jesus, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”
And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast 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. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But 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. Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
A human being is a kingdom divided. Even St Paul had to admit that this division existed within himself: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19). The first reading at today’s Mass pictures of the origin of that inner division. We are in the Garden of Eden, and something has gone wrong. Adam and Eve have taken the bait of illusory freedom. But immediately Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the snake. The long story began at that moment. Henceforth they are divided not only within themselves, but from each other and from God. This is a triple form of alienation: from self, from others, from God. The serpent was said to be “more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1) – though it has done little since then to justify that reputation. Tempters don’t have to be extremely clever; they only have to be a little cleverer than we are.
Jesus was accused of being in league with the dark side. “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” He replied, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” Far from being divided, Jesus is the only one there who is not divided from himself, from others or from God.
Our problems are insoluble for as long as we deny that we have them. The first step in healing is to see our actual state. It is easy (and it makes us easy company) to admit that we are not perfect: “Oh I’m no saint, God knows!” If this were a real admission it would sound the same whether we said it of ourselves or someone else said it about us; but how different it sounds in fact! A real admission is more likely to come in a quiet moment or in a moment of crisis, rather than over a cup of tea. Each of us is a kingdom divided within itself. “My name is Legion,” said the madman, “for we are many” (Mark 5:9; the Christian Community Bible has, “My name is Mob”). He was mad, but honest; and his healing followed immediately.
There is a chilling poem called ‘Invictus’ (unconquered) by a minor 19th-century poet Henley. It captures perfectly the desolate vanity of the ego. He writes of his “unconquerable soul”, and throws out defiant phrases like “My head is bloody, but unbowed.” Not surprisingly he expects nothing from beyond.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
This is remarkably similar to the words that Milton put in the mouth of Satan in Paradise Lost:
All is not lost, the unconquerable will,
and study of revenge, immortal hate,
and the courage never to submit or yield.
This posture has to be the worst possible reaction to our human plight: to pretend that there can be integration within a self that rejects everything but itself. The “sin against the Holy Spirit” is a sin against the truth; it is to call good evil and evil good. It is like turning the signposts around: then there is no direction. God’s forgiveness is without limit, but it is impossible while I define myself in opposition to the truth.
How much more human and more hopeful to say (Responsorial Psalm), “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!”