It is interesting that church leadership typically uses the threat of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit against lay-people who do not surrender to how that leadership understands their own authority and how they perceive God’s will over those very lay-people’s lives. However, church leaders cannot escape the narrative fact that the Mark 3 Beelzebul episode itself, the preceding conflict thread (2:1–3:6), and, as well, the Sower parable (4:1–12) seem specifically directed at them.
Jesus uses the convention of shame in the Beelzebul story, pointing to a needed correction within church leadership. For church leaders a posture of shame is needed, which once adopted reminds them of the illusive nature of status, the dangerous allure of power, and the recurring failure of faulty structures to guard the gospel and the church from the destructive influences and seductive cultural patterns that oppose God’s reign over all spheres of humankind.
It should not surprise us that the shaming inherent within the Beelzebul episode, intertexted through Mark’s Old Testament links, connects church leaders to the church’s responsibility (and neglect) for the economically vulnerable. Caring, protecting, and advocating for the poor gives away power and public association with those living with the effects of poverty risks lowering one’s church community status. However, maintaining power and its enabling structures so that one’s social standing and status remain in place (even among, and more particularly, the Christian community) at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable among us is synonymous with blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—breaking covenant, risking outside status and, thus, the condition of being eternally never forgiven.
The biography of Jesus vs. Jewish leaders in Mark 1-3 is linked to the biography of the disciples, who like the ones beside Jesus (i.e., his associates and extended family, 3:21; cf. 6:1-6) and like Jesus’ earthly family (3:31–32), are at risk of being outside (6:51–53; 8:16–21; 8:34–38; cf. 9:33–34; 11:31; 16:14), if they, too, are not doers of God’s will (3:33–35). This is particularly relevant to church leaders, as they stand before the Mark 3 text (i.e., the Outsider-Insider sandwich), for the Beelzebul episode ought to shame them in those areas that are too closely identified with that which opposes God’s rule and kingdom (cf. Mark 1:15; 3:25).
Mark’s Beelzebul episode functions similar to OT penitential prayers, allowing the reader/listener to enter a life narrative that reflects an appropriate shame for allowing those destructive forces and influences to distract from obedience to God’s word and work in the world. And like OT penitential prayers, a disposition of shame humbles the reader/listener before their “disobedience to the Mosaic ideals” that often reflects “mistreatment of the poor and the weak,” and gives them a way home that maps a spiritual disposition for restoring a fractured obedience to God.
Interestingly after confessing that Jesus is the Messiah, Peter is soon rebuked as a surrogate of Satan’s interests: “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mark 8:33). Significant to the reader/listener is the immediate juxtaposition of the Peter-Satan rebuke and Jesus’ admonishment that true followers must deny themselves (the opposite of power, an emptying of power) and take up their cross (v. 34). Church leaders who intentionally incorporate social action in a church’s evangelistic activities fulfill the obedience implications of the Beelzebul episode and, thus, raise Jesus’ honor rating in the public sphere. Without such a public disposition, church leaders are further warned that “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.