Jesus said what?! Jesus did what?!
20 Then [Jesus] went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. 21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” 23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-35 ESV)
If there ever was a prize for a chapter in the Gospels that gets people scratching their heads and muttering ‘I didn’t know that!’ then I think Mark chapter 3 might get the prize. It has got the usual – healings and intrigue, Jesus’ anger and his enemies plotting to kill him and crowds following him. It’s got the things Mark seems interested in – exorcisms and the demons acknowledging Jesus ‘You are the Son of God’ and Jesus ordering them to be quiet. It’s got the choosing of the Apostles and other Gospel accounts mention that also. But then we come to our text and the eyebrows rise – we have Jesus at home but this is more likely Capernaum after he was rejected from Nazareth – and his family coming to ‘seize’ him – either to protect him or because they didn’t understand him because they or others were saying that Jesus is out of his mind. This scene isn’t at the forefront of our memories of Jesus – that it was said of him that he was out of his mind and what his family did.
Worse was said by the scribes from Jerusalem because to make sense of Jesus from their perspective he had to be possessed by the Prince of demons – perhaps they it’s like a General demon ordering the corporal and sergeant demons around? – which Jesus counters but in doing so talks about an unforgiveable sin which can destabilise people who thought all sins are forgivable.
And then we have the final scene with his family arriving – mother, brothers, even sisters (according to some manuscripts) asking for him because they can’t get because of the crowds and Jesus redefines family away from blood or DNA to those around the Word of God. Ouch! This is not a passage used in a church promoting itself as family friendly!
It is interesting that throughout the Gospels Jesus points to two things that really negatively affect discipleship – following him – and they are wealth and family. We need to remember that family is critical within Judaism – bloodlines, descendants of mothers, Jews not marrying out of the faith or community are very important – and yet Jesus instead talks about family in terms of listening to and obeying God’s Word and those who do so are mothers, brothers, and sisters to him. And if we think of God’s Word as personal, incarnational – as Jesus himself – then Jesus here is challenging the basic unit of society and saying that not even it should get in the way of following him.
We might be shocked but I suspect the Jewish religious folk back then were scandalised.
It can seem that Jesus was scandalised by the names he was being called. Beelzebul possibly meaning ‘lord of the flies’ or a Philistine deity (maybe Baal) who maybe could fly but I think Jesus is responding in ways that challenge their perception. The logic of why one demon casts out others – of a house divided – shows the illogical nature of their concern. And Jesus gives them a better image of a house not so much divided but plundered and only so when the strong man of the house is bound, incapacitated.
Is Satan the strong man and Jesus binds him and rescues his ‘goods’ – the people trapped in sin, death, and the clutches of evil? That idea works.
Or is Jesus the strong man and when Jesus is bound say in the garden at his arrest and before Pilate, did the darkness plunder Jesus’ ‘goods’ as his disciples ran away? That idea works.
I think most people jump to the former idea but what seems to be the case is that whatever your interpretation Jesus will forgive people their sins – no matter what they do to or say about the Son of Man. But then comes the reference to the Holy Spirit and the unforgiveable sin. What is this about?
We need to remember that all the Old Testament sacrifices were built on the premise that a person was struggling with sin and failed. Deliberate sins – conscious actions – knowing they are wrong are rebellious choices and in effect the person is saying ‘I don’t care about the consequences’. Repentance, reflection, maybe remorse later on might happen when the person said in effect, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’ and there were sacrifices then that could be offered to turn the rebellious action into a struggling with sin but failed deed – and then there was a sacrifice to seek forgiveness. So when Jesus is saying that blasphemies against him would be forgiven but not against the Holy Spirit, he’s not talking about calling the Holy Spirit bad names but about a choice to reject the Holy Spirit’s work in your life. The people who called Jesus Beelzebul made a judgement and they were sticking to it and the Holy Spirit was convicting them of their error but they were resisting and sticking to their choice. Sin against the Holy Spirit – reject Jesus as Lord – resist all words that challenge your point of view – and live like that continually, constantly until death, then don’t be surprised when you get what you wanted – your sins are not forgiven! There’s always time to repent of course. After all, God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4) and the unforgiveable sin is the sin where you reject the forgiveness.
Mark chapter 3 is full of scenes to which people might exclaim ‘Jesus did what?!’ or ‘Jesus said what?!’ and we encounter Jesus on a mission, Jesus focused, Jesus with a goal and purpose – and not a ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ or a Jesus we can mould into our image. We know where Jesus is heading in his life and why. His actions and his words will all find themselves on a cross because Jesus will not be bullied, tempted, disssuaded, cajoled, condemned, stopped from doing what he came to do – heal, challenge sin, call people to follow him, and offer a new way of living in this world where the focus is him first.
Is Jesus a nut? Is he telling the truth? Can Jesus be trusted? Only at the cross and by the light of an empty tomb can people know the answer – and in following him – through reading his Word, praying, remembering your baptismal identity, receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, struggling with temptations and sins, trusting Jesus’ forgiveness – will life have meaning and purpose that is secure – no matter what the world says!
- Mark 3:20 - 35