St. John's, Centreville
June 10, 2018
Proper 5 B
Mark 3: 20-35
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our lesson from the gospel of Mark this morning is one of the more difficult ones to understand as there are several things going on at once. The lesson begins with Jesus trying to withdraw from the crowds that have been following him, to get a bit of rest, to be by himself or with the disciples for awhile. But Jesus has healed a lot of people and as word spreads, more and more people continue to follow him, to have Jesus lay his hands on them and heal them. He cannot get away from the crowds, even for a few moments, even to get something to eat. We know that Jesus has compassion on all those who are sick or disabled, anyone who is in need of healing.
Jesus had healed a number of people who had demons, an evil spirit within them. The demons knew who Jesus was. As the unclean spirits were driven out, they would cry out, "You are the Son of God!" We can imagine that shook some people up.
The scribes, the religious authorities, thought that Jesus was undermining their authority and putting their positions in jeopardy. They did not like Jesus teaching the people and they were threatened by the size of the crowds that followed Jesus. So they try to discredit Jesus by saying he is Satan himself, and that is how he is casting out demons.
But Jesus calls them on this absurd statement. If he was Satan, why would he cast his own demons out of people? That didn't make any sense. How can Satan cast out Satan? A house divided cannot stand but will surely fall.
Now Satan does not necessarily mean a personality with horns and a tail, but it names a demonic power that is actively engaged against the compassionate and reconciling love of God.
Jesus goes on to say, "But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then the house can be plundered." Jesus is talking about our captivity to the powers of evil that continue to want our attention and allegiance. How does Satan, or the power of evil, tie us up and make us his captives? How do we become captive to the power of Satan?
One is the power of race, which tells us that one group is superior over another group, simply because of the color of their skin or their cultural heritage. Another is the power of patriarchy, which tells us that men should dominate women. Another is the power of materialism, which tells us that the more money we have, the happier we will be. Another is the power of militarism, which tells us that weapons and war will bring us peace and security. And there are many other ways, like power and social status, that can sway us to become captive to the power of Satan. Our captivity to Satan, or evil forces that draw us away from the love of God, must be uncovered and identified in order for us to realize the freedom of being the children of a loving and compassionate God.
We know that our God is a loving and forgiving God, yet our gospel today says that God will not forgive those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. For Mark, blaspheme against the Holy Spirit consists of calling the work of God's Holy Spirit evil. For that is like calling God evil. That is blaspheme and unacceptable in the eyes of God. The scribes are saying that Jesus has an unclean spirit. But Jesus is God's Son, part of the Trinity, one with God. Never could Jesus have an unclean spirit.
Jesus has gone head to head with Satan before. In his 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus is tempted by Satan at a time when he is most vulnerable. But Jesus does not become captive to Satan. He does not let Satan win. And Satan leaves him until an opportune time.
The last part of this passage is troubling as well. Jesus' mother and brothers and sisters have come to see Jesus, for some have said that he has gone out of his mind. So they come, perhaps to take him home, out of the limelight, nurse him back to health. All the pressure Jesus is under between the crowds that want to be healed and the scribes who want to bring him down, might be affecting his mental status. So his family has come to take him home, away from the pressure.
But they can't get to Jesus because of the large crowds that surround him. So they send word through the crowds to Jesus that they are there and would like to talk with him. And Jesus replies, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."
Now at first glance, that seems like a slap in the face to Mary and his brothers and sisters. They are his family and they are concerned about him. Can't he stop for a few minutes and talk with them?
I don't think that Jesus' statement that "whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother" was meant to be a put-down of his immediate family, but rather a teaching moment for the crowds who were with him that day. This statement was to show our interconnectedness as children of God and our responsibility to love and care for one another as God loves and cares for us. His statement was to help us look beyond our immediate families to see the needs of those around us and of those in our world.
The emphasis is on doing the will of God. Whenever we are participating in God's mission - feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, working for peace - we are "being God's family."
Jesus healed people and cast out their demons. He confronted the scribes who thought he was filled with demons. He asks us to think about what our demons are and how we can unbind and free ourselves of those burdens to live in the freedom of being children of God. And he expanded the meaning of family - that all of us who love and serve God are family - brothers and sisters in God's family. Amen.
(some ideas taken from "Feasting on the Word" Year B, Volume 3, pages 117 - 120.)