Monday, January 27, 2014

Tie Up the Strong Man

But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man.  Then he can plunder his house. Mark 3:27

Father, you have found your servant.  Free us from the lures of the strong man so that we might turn to you in obedience.  Through your mercy, make us worthy and strong to tackle the mission you have for us.

Jesus uses an image here which his audience knows well from the Prophet Isaiah: “Can plunder be taken from a warrior, or captives rescued from a tyrant?  Thus says the LORD: Yes, captives can be taken from a warrior, and plunder rescued from a tyrant; Those who oppose you I will oppose, and your sons I will save.”  (IS 49:24-25)

Jesus has been presenting his mission as the fulfillment of the prophecy.  Here, he explains that he is stronger than his enemies.  There are at least three ways (IMHO) two ways to look at the metaphor of the strong man.  All of them might be right. 

First, is Satan the strong one?  Until Jesus can overcome the temptations and diversions planted by the Evil One, Jesus cannot get us to work for His love.  However, who but one stronger can overtake the strong man?  Therefore, Jesus succeeds in this endeavor by tying up the strong man (Satan) so that Jesus himself is free to operate and win over our hearts and minds.
Second, are we the strong one?  We can be the humans in His audience that day or the humans in the extended audience of the Gospel reading now.  Our selfishness is what Jesus has to get us to control.  Once he ties that up, Jesus can get us to focus on the love of God and the love of our neighbor.   Or are we more like Martha’s and Mary’s brother Lazarus, tied up in cloth from which we need to be cut free?

Finally, is Jesus the strong one?  Probably this is the only real reading that matters.  The winner in this tug-of-war between good and evil is whoever prevails in the end.  The survival of the fittest will be the survival of the one who can conquer all others – including sin and death.  The only One who fits that bill is the itinerant preacher and carpenter’s son from Nazareth.  He ties up the strong man and then frees us from what has us tied up in knots.

"Strong man" does not have many good connotations in modern society outside of a circus.  Politically, a ruler who is considered a "strong man" usually is considered dictatorial.  He rules by force in an authoritarian regime.  The Philippines used to be ruled by a strong man in the person of President Marcos.  Franco in Spain.  Casto in Cuba.  Mao in China.  Mubarak in Egypt.  Robert Mugabe.  Napoleon.  Noriega in Panama.  Quadafi in Libya.  Stalin.  Putin. 

Strong man does not imply strong leadership.  Leadership by inspiration and the positive force of personality is practically the opposite of leadership by force.  In this camp think Franklin Roosevelt.  Think Nelson Mandela.  Think Pope John Paul II and now Pope Francis.  Perhaps our current pontiff is the anti-strongman. 

Practically a week does not go by where our new Pope, in power less than a year, does not do or say something or get photographed in a very pastoral situation. 
Some of his recent "tweets" on the Pontifex Twitter account are near daily reminders of how to bind the strong man:
  • It is easy to ask God for things; we all do it. When will we also learn to give him thanks and to adore him? (January 25)
  • We are called to live our baptism every day, as new creatures, clothed in Christ. (January 24)
  • Like Mary, may we nurture the light born within us at Christmas. May we carry it everywhere in our daily lives. (January 23)
  • It is not enough to say we are Christians. We must live the faith, not only with our words, but with our actions. (January 22)

Whether he is having two children joined him to release peace doves or speaking with compassion about a child attacked over the alleged debts of his father, Pope Francis binds the strong men by disarming them with his words, deeds and attitude. His example gives me inspiration to tackle with love the strong men (and women) I encounter. 

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