Christ Binds the Strong Man

“Christ Binds the Strong Man”
A reflection on Mark 3:22-30
Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
©2022 by Gloria M. Chang

The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said of Jesus, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”

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. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. 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. Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Mark 3:22-30

Scribal Libel

At the house of Peter and Andrew, dense flocks seeking healing made it impossible for the disciples even to eat (Mark 3:20). As rumormongers pronounced Jesus “out of his mind,” relatives tried to remove him from the scene by force. But Jesus’ eccentric reputation had traveled all the way to Jerusalem, catapulting their scribes to the doorstep of the fishermen’s home.1 “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” they denounced with fury. “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” The scribes’ damning assessment of the wonderworker from Nazareth shocked the crowds.

Parable of the Strong Man

Summoning them, Jesus addressed the scribes with a parable, exposing their lies to the light. “How can Satan drive out Satan?” A house divided against itself cannot stand. Rather, Satan’s expulsion requires a mightier nemesis, Christ, who “ties up the strong man” to reclaim stolen property (the children of God).

Resisting the Holy Spirit

Rejecting the evidence of God’s goodness, the enemies of Christ called good evil and evil good. In the Gospel of John, the accusation that Jesus belonged to Beelzebul boomeranged back to the scribes and Pharisees.

Why do you not understand what I am saying? Because you cannot bear to hear my word. You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me.

John 8:43-45 (RSV)

Deaf to the words of God (John 8:47), the religious authorities labeled Jesus as accursed. By crediting Satan with healings and exorcisms, their slander maligned the Spirit of God.

Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:3 (RSV)

Jesus’ warning to the scribes to heed the voice of the Holy Spirit implies that they, who stubbornly shut their hearts to the truth, can open them.

Sacking the Strong Man

Satan cannot drive out Satan. One stronger than the “strong man” must break down his door, tie him up, and despoil him.

By the Spirit of God, the strong man is bound.
Christ plunders his house; Abba’s treasures are found.


1 According to the New American Bible (Revised Edition), the account of the unbelieving scribes from Jerusalem is “inserted” within the narrative of the coming of Jesus’ relatives (see the footnote to Mark 3:20-25). Mark’s inclusion of the scribes’ accusation here serves the purpose of compounding the slanders against Jesus. Elsewhere, segments of this dialogue appear in different contexts (see Matthew 12:22-32; Luke 12:10).

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