Gracious God, illumine these words by your Spirit that we might hear what you would have us hear and be who you would have us be, for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Amen.
By John Wurster; used with permission
19Then Jesus went home, 20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons."
23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But 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; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— 30for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."
31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." 33And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."
Sundays after Pentecost
Today the Church's year of grace moves into a half-year of Ordinary Time, and we start counting Sundays after the Day of Pentecost. Ordinary refers to ordered and organized rather than mundane or commonplace, but we hold these Sundays in common with most denominations, church bodies, and traditions. During this green and growing Season of the Spirit, time of the church, we especially emphasize the contemporary Acts of the Apostles (that's us!).
The Gospel According to Mark
This is Mark's year in the Revised Common Lectionary that provides our scripture readings. Mark is the earliest and shortest of the four canonical gospels; Mark is particularly apocalyptic. An apocalypse is a revealing or uncovering—something like an epiphany. Apocalyptic typically employs contrasting dualism: light-dark; heaven-hell; empty-full; good-evil; near-far. Signs, imagery, and symbols in apocalyptic literature sometimes have an easily discernible meaning; other times it's best to consider its context within an entire passage.
Mark's gospel brings us the inbreaking rule or reign of God—the end of the world as we've known it. Mark answers the question "Where do we find God?" Not far away in an unreachable heavenly location; not enthroned in the temple; not in conventional religious, economic, political, social, and cultural persons and establishments. Especially in Mark's gospel, we find Jesus outside the city limits (remember the location of the Calvary cross), outside the center of almost everything, on the margins, in the stranger, the outsider, and the outcast, even in those falling off the edge of the edges. More than in the other gospels, Mark's Jesus acts outside of regulation and convention as he offers limitless mercy, inclusion, forgiveness, and grace. Jesus in Mark erases old boundaries and redraws them to include everyone.
Just as with Luke, Jesus' journey to the cross in Mark is especially intentional and incessant. Particularly for Mark, the cross is the ultimate revelation of Jesus' identity and mission; the cross also reveals our identity and mission as the church, as people Jesus sends out (an apostle literally is a sent person) in the power of the Spirit to continue his ministry of loving and reconciling the world. Related to the gospel reading for today, in The Interpreter's Bible Commentary, Lamar Williamson, Jr. makes the noun apostle into a verb, and declares we have been "Apostled for proclamation and the removal of demons."
So Far in Mark
• Good News / Gospel announcement (no genealogy, no birth narrative). "Gospel" is a short form of Godspell or God's Spell you may remember from the musical Stephen Schwartz and John Michael Tebelak based on Matthew's gospel.
• John the Baptist in the Jordan River wilderness
• Jesus joins John's riverside assembly and John baptizes him.
• Forty days of temptation in the even deeper desert wilds
• Back in his hometown Galilee, Jesus announces now is the time! The reign (kingdom) of God has come near.
• Jesus calls fisher brothers Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John Zebedee as his first disciples.
• In his first act of public ministry, Jesus drives out a demon after teaching in the synagogue during services.
• Jesus heals Peter's mother in law.
• Casts out "many demons" who recognize Jesus
• Heals a leper
• Another healing (the scribes don't like this)
• Calls tax collector Levi
• Eats with sinners and tax collectors (once again, scribes don't like this at all)
• Question about fasting
• About doing good deeds on the Sabbath
• Heals / does good on the Sabbath again. After this the Pharisee religious leaders conspire to get rid of Jesus
• More healing – this time by the water feature that's technically Lake Galilee, not a sea or an ocean
• Jesus specially calls and appoints twelve apostles. A rabbi would need ten disciples or followers to be credible; Jesus added two more to that number.
Kinship, Authority, Family
Today's gospel reading continues chapter 3. Cast of characters include a crowd, Jesus' family of origin, and hyper-religious scribes from Jerusalem. Verse 23 tells us Jesus spoke in parables, a type of story we know from Mark and from the other synoptic gospels Matthew and Luke. A parable makes us listen – and hear – beyond the immediately obvious.
In Jesus' time and place, biological family or household determined a person's social and economic trajectory. Family would be comprised of several generations and stretch horizontally to include cousins. It was far removed from the nuclear Western family of parents, grands, and offspring that started at the turn of the twentieth century, eons away from the post-World War II mid-twentieth century phenomenon of parents and kids that prevailed for (maybe) a couple of decades.
In Jesus' time and place, Jerusalem scribes were highly-regarded experts on everything Torah and Temple; they had extremely high religious and social standing. In this reading, Jesus has gone home to Galilee; that means those scribes had journeyed a distance to scope out and engage the itinerant rabbi who'd been making radical claims and causing crazy commotions. In this anecdote, both family and religious leaders mis-identify Jesus' person and purpose. By looking only at the surface, they simply perceive his actions as being outside of conventional kinship and religious behaviors and apparently never wonder about a meaning beyond the obvious.
Mark's Jesus brings us the inbreaking rule or reign of God—the end of the world as we've known it; Mark's gospel or good news often describes the world newly reordered by the Word in vividly contrasting apocalyptic images. In Mark, Jesus especially engages religious, economic, and political institutions: The Establishment. Mark particularly unmasks the systemic brokenness and sin that's within all institutions and structures that yet remain necessary for the world to keep spinning. In Jesus' first act of public ministry in Mark [1:21-26], he exorcises or expels a demon in the midst of a synagogue service. Talk about conventional, established religion! It even has its own fixed meeting place!
Although "house" in this scripture can mean a domestic dwelling, it equally applies to any structure or infrastructure that needs to cohere and function in order to function as intended. Thus, Jesus refers to a kingdom divided, a house divided, Satan against himself. (Satan is the prosecuting attorney in Hebrew anthropology, and not necessarily a personification of evil). As we've especially been learning over the past few years, systemic and institutional injustice, inequities, sin, ineffectiveness, and brokenness happen because of far more than inept actions of individuals, occurs from much more than good or bad or indifferent organizational or institutional pronouncements and activities—a type of dysfunctional disease pervades them. No single action or decision of an individual or corporate entity has caused them to break; no righteous move or loving resolve has enough power to breathe life back into them.
Today's reading doesn't say Jesus expelled another demon or incubus, but he spoke in understandable religious and cultural terms. Whatever our own location in time and place, words like "demonic, satanic" describe forces outside our control very well.
Where We Live: Today's Gospel
"A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to Jesus, '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, Jesus said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.'" Mark 3:32-35
During this green and growing Season of the Spirit, time of the church, we especially emphasize the contemporary Acts of the Apostles (that's us!). Jesus invites us to join his new family configuration by claiming our baptismal gift of the Holy Spirit and following him into the world where he waits for us. Jesus apostles us to proclaim the end of the broken, death-dealing, dysfunctional world as we've known it and (in the power of the Holy Spirit) to remove demons. Yay!