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104. Conquests and Conflicts (Mark 3:20-35)

June 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Meditations, The Better Part

“And the mere mention of the name of Christ instantly chased Satan away, like a sparrow before a hawk.” – St. Athanasius

Mark 3:20-35: He went home again, and once more such a crowd collected that they could not even have a meal. When his relatives heard of this, they set out to take charge of him, convinced he was out of his mind. The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘Beelzebul is in him’ and, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts evils out.’ So he called them to him and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot last. And if a household is divided against itself, that household can never stand. Now if Satan has rebelled against himself and is divided, he cannot stand either – it is the end of him. But no one can make his way into a strong man’s house and burgle his property unless he has tied up the strong man first. Only then can he burgle his house. I tell you solemnly, all men’s sins will be forgiven, and all their blasphemies; but let anyone blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and he will never have forgiveness: he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ This was because they were saying, ‘An unclean spirit is in him.’ His mother and brothers now arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ He replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’

Christ the Lord Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, Satan had been the “ruler of this world” (Jn 12: 31). The law of sin, injustice, and selfishness had governed human affairs, even though the presence and promise of God kept love alive. With the arrival of Christ, we are faced with someone who repeatedly outmatches Satan: he casts out demons effortlessly, repairs physical evil (leprosy, paralysis, and even death) with a mere word or touch, and, above all, he forgives sin, freeing souls from the most dire of Satan’s entrapments. Christ performed these deeds in the open air, for all to see.

The “scribes who had come down from Jerusalem,” representatives of the Sanhedrin (Israel’s governing body) sent to ascertain the legitimacy of this Galilean preacher’s dubious (in their minds) doctrine, had to offer some kind of explanation for these phenomena. They could not, however, explain Jesus’ special powers as coming from God, since that would require them to accept his teaching as well. But his teaching contradicted much of their own, and so to accept it would be to relinquish their status and influence. So they attributed his works to a pact made with the devil.

Mark 3:20-35Jesus calmly but clearly points out the absurdity of their claim: obviously, his consistent reversal of the devil’s conquests shows that he is not only at odds with the ancient enemy, but also more powerful than him. After witnessing the words and actions of the Lord, the only way to deny that “the ruler of this world [Satan] has been condemned” (Jn 16: 11) is to deliberately blind oneself to the facts – a good strategy, if you prefer the illusory advantages you get from relishing the devil’s false promises.

Christ the Teacher Many commentators struggle to explain Jesus’ seemingly heartless treatment of his mother and his relatives (the term used for “brothers and sisters” often refers back to a Semitic term indicating “relative” in general). Perhaps after his rather caustic reply to the news that they were asking for him, he took his leave from the crowd and went to spend time with them; perhaps he waited until finishing his discourse and then went to be with them; perhaps he simply denied himself the natural pleasure of spending time with his family in order to dedicate himself more completely to his mission. In any case, the evangelist (the writer of the Gospel) is much less interested in giving an explanation for how he treated his relations than in highlighting the lesson Christ gives in this tense moment: the secret to intimacy with God.

What human relationship is more intimate, more familiar, more solid than the relationship between a child and his mother, or that between brothers and sisters? These relationships never end, and they lead to an incomparable mutual knowledge. Jesus tells us how our relationship with him, with God, can reach equal depths: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Seeking, embracing, and fulfilling God’s will in our lives leads us into intimate knowledge and familiar intercourse with God – something he yearns for. Do you wish to know God, to be close to him? God’s will is the foolproof formula for supernatural success.

Christ the Friend Jesus was a man for others. Such a crowd gathered around Jesus and his disciples that they had no time even to eat. Nothing mattered more to Jesus than feeding the souls of his neighbor with the nourishment of his love and his truth, so much so that he neglected to feed himself. This self-sacrificing attitude permeated every moment of his earthly existence, culminating in the complete oblation of his life on the cross at Calvary. “This is the greatest love a man can show, that he should lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15: 13). By that standard, Jesus shows himself the friend of us all.

Christ in My Life It’s hard for me to understand why you yearn for my friendship, why you want me to be as close as your brother and sister and mother. But you do. I want that too, Lord. Only you can fill my heart and my mind with the fullness of life that I long for so achingly. And I know that the way to intimacy with you is to fulfill your will each moment, out of love. Teach me to do your will…

You were so busy – not for your sake, but for the sake of those around you.I want to love like that. I want to be worthy to bear the name of Christian. Jesus, teach my heart to love as you love. Open my eyes to see my neighbors as you see them, and make serving others the default setting of my will. With the zeal of your heart, set my heart on fire…

Mary, you fulfilled your mission in life because you accepted God’s plan and fulfilled his will. It wasn’t easy for you. A sword pierced your heart; you had to suffer. But you loved your Son, and you trusted him. Teach me to love and trust him. Teach me true humility; teach me to care only about fulfilling the mission he has given me: loving God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself…


PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art for this post on Mark 3:20-35: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Beelzebub and them that are with him shoot arrows, Frederick Barnard (1846-1896), engraved by Dalziel Brothers, undated, PD-US author's life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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