And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain [Jesus], for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And [Jesus] 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 stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 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. Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
The True Kindred of Jesus
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “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.”
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
How fitting that it is we should hear Jesus’ weird apocalyptic teaching on tying up Satan on a Sunday in June between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Close readers of this text can’t help but notice that Jesus’ apocalyptic teaching about binding Beelzebul is flanked by stories about Jesus’ own family on either side. Jesus’ family, portrayed at the beginning and the end, is demonstrably worried that Jesus has gone off his rocker. Perhaps they are concerned that Jesus’ Galilean ministry of healing, exorcisms, and controversial teaching looks nothing like nice, traditional familial values.
Frankly, we as contemporary readers may feel somewhat similar: Hallmark sells cards for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, which sentimentally reinforce the familial order, but what greeting cards are suitable for a “Happy Exorcism”, “Praying for your Lepresy”, or “Wishing you all the best with your unclean spirit”? Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings and actions just don’t fit the traditional family.
Viewed from the right angle, something like this has happened when it comes to Mark 3. Many people have walked away from this chapter fretting to the depths of their soul the so-called “unpardonable sin.”
- We worry what the precise perameters of that sin may be.
- We worry that someone we know may have been guilty of it.
- We worry that we may have accidentally committed this very sin ourselves.
So in the past preachers, myslef included, have tried to address this matter very often through the traditional line, “If you are worried about this sin, then you didn’t commit it.” Others have suggested that this most perilous of sins isn’t a one-time lapse. For the consequences to be this eternally dire, the person in question must be a hardcore anti-God figure who never accepts the Lord’s work even for a moment. But however we deal with this, the point is that we need to remember that many people have become obsessed with this particular part of the chapter very nearly to the exclusion of all else. In doing that, what we sometimes come close to forgetting is that there are two rejections of Jesus in Mark 3.
But when we become obsessed with the ins and outs of the unpardonable sin, we tend to ignore the fact that Mark 3 shows us also another unhappy way to view Jesus and that we need to avoid that attitude, also. To see this other rejection, we need to look at Jesus’ family and the role it plays here.
Jesus’ mother and brothers have apparently not yet become members of Jesus’ band of disciples. They have been following Jesus in a literal sense but not in the more important sense of discipleship—they are more stalking him to figure out what is going on than following to learn from his teachings. But the result of that kind of following is a dire conclusion: In their minds: Jesus is a few sandwhiches short of a picnic! He has become something of a family embarrassment, a public spectacle that they are eager to whisk out of sight. They want to take Jesus home, put him to bed, keep him quiet for a while, and then see if all this talk about casting out demons and the kingdom of his Father goes away.
As some scholars have pointed out over the years, it appears that it was particularly Jesus’ engagement with the demonic that was causing Mary and Jesus’ brothers to arch their eyebrows the sharpest. It all seemed a little bizarre to them. In verse 21 they say literally that they had to get him on home because Jesus was exeste, a word meaning to stand outside of yourself. Even today we may refer to a person who is an emotional wreck as being “beside themselves” with grief.
The idea is that someone has taken leave of their senses (or their senses have taken leave of them) and so what remains for the time being is a person whose emotions are unchecked and unregulated. This is the family’s assessment of Jesus.
Because of all this, in this week’s Gospel Jesus sees pressure coming from all directions.
- He has already been engaged in a battle with demons and evil spirits that he has been casting out.
- The religious authorities now, unsurprisingly, are not pleased with him.
- Jesus is in a battle for the redemption of all people, and each time he encounters those whom we might assume would be on his side, it seems like he gets rejected and rebuked every time.
In what I read as a majorly devastating situation, Jesus stands strong and continues to speak in his parables to those gathered. A divided Satan would have no power against an intruder or challenger. Jesus compares Satan to a strong man and notes the futility of plundering the strong man without first tying him up. There is indeed someone powerful enough to tie up and overcome this strong man, taking away all the power and prestige that that strong man held so dearly. God can overcome the most powerful of all evil forces, and the ties that Jesus speaks of may just be the very work of the evil spirits happening in this very conversation. The attempt to trap, devastate, and isolate Jesus has failed. He has let his adversary tie themself into knots as he reminds them of the grave mistake of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit and rebuilds his family with those siblings given to him by God.
Sometimes the work of justice feels like this encounter that Jesus has in our Gospel today. “Don’t be so opinionated!” our families will say. “Just let it go, it doesn’t matter anyways” others will note. Stereotypes such as too sensitive, angry, crazy, or bossy come to mind. Now, I do not think that this piece of Scripture is an opportunity for blind righteous indignation in all that we think or all that we do.
Rather, it seems an example that this work of the Holy Spirit will not always be easy, simple, or well received. Sometimes it will even be demonized and cause isolation. The good news rests in the continued promise and creation of community though. Jesus continues to work for and invest in the eternal and divine life that God has called him to.
Apparently all Jesus’ talk about invisible kingdoms of God and the casting out of demons led members of his own family to the conclusion that Jesus was seeing things that no one else could see and the reason was simple: he was out of his everloving mind!
We probably can give the family a break—no one in history, after all, had ever before had to deal with having the Son of God as a close family member. Still, to look at Jesus and chalk up his words as delusional, incorrect, incoherent—that is a pretty bad thing to do, too. It’s maybe not an unpardonable sin but it may well be a sin in which we sometimes participate.
Whenever we pick and choose from among our Savior’s words, deciding on our own which to take seriously and which to chalk up as no more than metaphor or something that doesn’t apply to us in the modern age, aren’t we essentially saying that sometimes Jesus said things that no one can take seriously? Mark 3 shows us that there is indeed more than one way to reject Jesus.
We would all do well to pay attention to the lesser one sometimes and not let undue worries about the big one eclipse this for us. Because in this case the forest we might miss for the sake of the trees is a really important forest! It is called The Kingdom of God.