It would be hard to highlight a bad experience on my trip to Israel, but if I were forced I would have to admit that the trip to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem might have been close. For me, a loud and dark place jam-packed with people is not my perspective of fun. But beyond the people, as we walked in the church you could hear the tour guides telling the interesting story not of the crucifixion, but of the historic fight over territory inside the cathedral by various Christian sects. It was interesting to see a place that was set to commemorate a gracious gift of faith and life turned into a model for the dysfunction of Christendom.
While there are some parts of the Bible that support the idea of a person who is charged with wreaking havoc on the world (Satan), I reject that for an understanding that recognizes that there is a real presence of evil in this world. Unlike the boogey man that is trying to tempt you, this real presence of evil is insidious and moves more like a cancer. It is also something that we cannot separate ourselves from except through the grace and redemption through Christ.
In this week’s passage we see something very interesting; Jesus is called Satan. Know here is the interesting thing. Through logic Jesus comes back and refutes the accusation saying “How can Satan cast out Satan?” For Jesus, while there may be a Satan (depending on the gospels we get differing interpretations) that person is no where as bad as our personal decisions. In his strong rebuke at the end of the parable (Mark 3:29b) he says “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”.
It changes the line from what we can blame on someone else vs. what we are actually doing. I don’t hear the line all that much today, but when I was a kid I used to hear people all the time say, often with a smirk, “oh, the devil made me do it” when they did something naughty. But the reality is that we make choices, and we can control the evil within if we recognize and commit to following Christ.
And this is where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre comes in, because it is an example of what happens when we allow the evil inside to take over. Instead of creating a space to further the message of Christ, it has become a testament of dysfunction, fighting, and our very human fights over power and control. In fact, one could say that what is happening at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a direct witness to how evil can separate people not just from each other, but also from the Word of God.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen