Powers and Authorities
Mark 3: 20-35 (NRSV)
20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 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.
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
The success of Jesus’ ministry provoked the antagonism of the Jewish political and religious leaders. In Mark 3:6, we see how the Pharisees and the Herodians plot together to destroy him. Then the scribes from Jerusalem verbally attack him saying, “He has Beelzebub, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons” (verse 22). The political and religious structure had been so corrupted that the Jewish leaders fail to recognise the Messiah. In the end, they incite the crowns to demand his crucifixion (Mark 15: 13).
We, too, live at a time when many of the ‘authorities and powers’ manifest themselves in evil and corrupt structures (Ephesians 6: 12). Structural evil arises from structures within human society rather than from individual wickedness or religious conceptions such as original sin. According to Andrew Basden, structural evil occurs because people contribute to its creation by accepting it without protest so that over time it is normalised.
For example we see structural evil in the power that multinational corporations exert over governments to avoid competition and to try to minimise regulations and corporate taxes. They control prices and pay meagre wages to workers in developing countries to maximise profits. Their commitment is to profits rather than their workers or the countries in which they operate. They are often among the world’s great polluters, rarely demonstrate environmental concern, using up vast amounts of natural resources and energy. They show little interest in acting justly or in the common good.
In response, we must ask: If the products we purchase and the luxuries we consume were created by oppression or injustice, are we morally responsible for that injustice? We must face up to the reality that such practices do not conform with God’s order. To imagine that others are to blame for such injustices is to disobey God’s demand for justice and perpetuate the cycle of structural evil from which there is no end. We must act by raising these issues in the public discourse and require that products we purchase be ethically made and the workers receive fair wages, and have safe working conditions.
Lord, help us to act with courage.