Scripture: Mark 3:19-35
Key Verse: (25) “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Reflection: These words of Jesus from Mark’s gospel were etched upon the soul of our nation by Abraham Lincoln. He quoted them in a speech delivered to the Illinois Republican Convention on June 16, 1858. He invoked Jesus’ words to criticize the advancement of slavery, not only in the South, but also through the Dred Scott decision which opened slavery in the western territories. “’A house divided against itself cannot stand,” he quoted. He went on to say, “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South. Have we no tendency to the latter condition?”
This was not a call for unity for the sake of unity, but rather unity for the sake of what was right and just. At the time, the speech was seen as incredibly radical. In fact, most historians say it cost Lincoln the Senate election, as the Democratic candidate, Stephen A. Douglas, went on to win. Reflecting on the speech years later, Lincoln’s law partner, William H. Herndon, said, “Through logic inductively seen, Lincoln as a statesman, and political philosopher, announced an eternal truth — not only as broad as America, but covers the world.” Though the speech cost Lincoln the Senate election, many believe it won him the Presidency, which led ultimately to the abolition of slavery and the preservation of the Union.
Jesus originally uttered those words in response to religious leaders who accused him of having a demon after he healed a man on the Sabbath. In fact, his own family thought he had lost his mind. But Jesus was standing up against the religious leaders’ hardness of heart that was willing to ignore human need for the sake of religious law. By the end of the reading, Jesus takes a stand against his own family members who are trying to restrain him, saying, “Who are my mother and my brothers? … Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln meant that our nation could not be half slave -holding and half free. Jesus meant we could not abide by hardness of heart that ignores human suffering for the sake of religious tradition. What do Jesus’ words say to us today in our nation that is so divided? What principles call us to stand up for what is good and right and just? What is God’s will for us today in the midst of our divided world
Prayer: O God, open our ears to hear your Word. Open our minds to see with your vision. Open our hearts to respond to your call, no matter the cost. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].