June 6, 2021
Sunday between June 5 and June 11 inclusive, if following Trinity Sunday
Proper 5, Ordinary Time 10
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 3:20-35, The Message or Mark 3:20-35, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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How lucky we are this text doesn't fall on Mother's or Father's Day! Or maybe that just lets us off the hook?
It is important to remember that prior to this passage we learn that Jesus' fame has begun to spread throughout the region - even to Jerusalem (Mark 3:8). So much so, that the religious authorities have also started to show up to challenge Jesus, and have become sufficiently worried that they have begun to plot how to destroy him (Mark 3:6).
At the time of Jesus, the first line of attack would be for the authorities to publicly discredit and shame Jesus, because without the backing of the crowds Jesus is no threat whatsoever - he could just be sent back to obscurity in that no-name hamlet in the backwoods of Galilee where he belongs.
And so this passage begins by setting the scene in the presence of a crowd - the place where public reputations are made - or broken.
Next up are two sources of attacks on Jesus' reputation, honour, and authority: his own family, and religious authorities from Jerusalem - the scribes.
Jesus was not acting in accordance with his birth status - an uneducated peasant from an area of Israel that was regarded as a the place of backwoods hillbillies.
How could this be?
One possibility is that he is out of his mind. Another is that he is possessed by an evil spirit. A third is that he is filled with the Holy Spirit.
His family and some authorities from the capital city, Jerusalem, show up to propose the first two explanations, and put Jesus back in his place.
His family are not so much "attacking" Jesus' honour, as acting to ensure that Jesus' behaviour does not bring the family into disrepute. If Jesus is indeed "out of his mind," the family is honour bond to restrain him and keep his craziness as a secret within the family.
The religious authorities are attacking Jesus' honour, because they want to destroy his public reputation in order to maintain social order. Israel is under occupation by the Romans. And if the authorities from Jerusalem do not maintain social order, THEY will be punished and possibly the whole city and country. (This was not an exaggerated worry, because 30 years after Jesus there was an uprising and the Romans did kill many and did destroy the Temple.)
Jesus skillfully rebuts these attacks - and thereby increases his public reputation!
The scribes attack Jesus by saying that it is by the ruler of the demons that he casts out demons.
But Jesus easily ridicules this argument: How can Satan cast out Satan? How can a house divided stand?
Furthermore, Jesus then rightly and honourable defends the honour of the Spirit by which he has in fact been doing these things - the Holy Spirit; God's Spirit.
It is important not to gloss over the implications of Verse 29:
whoever blasphemies against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.
Who has just said it was an unclean spirit and not the Holy Spirit by which Jesus acted? Everyone present in that large crowd - including the scribes - would have just heard Jesus condemn the scribes from the Temple in Jerusalem as guilty of an eternal sin!
Jesus takes it upon himself to pronounce guilty of sin authorities from the one and only place in Israel where sins are determined and atoned for. Jesus has become the Temple! (Are you still puzzled as to why the authorities wanted to destroy Jesus?)
The question Jesus asks in Verse 33:
Who are my mother and my brothers?
cuts to the heart of Mediterranean society: family is everything.
Jesus' answer in Verses 34-35:
(You all) here are my mother and my brothers!
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.
is one of the most radical statements in the Gospel because it announces a whole new way of being family and the abandonment of blood-relations as the primary bond that defines and orders one's life. (Malina and Rohrbaugh, page 159.)
Here is the Good News: Jesus is not out of his mind; Jesus is not filled with demonic spirits. Rather, Jesus has the mind of God; Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit - and invites all of us to be of the same mind and same Spirit in a new family as his sisters and brothers.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 158-159; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See link below.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, et. al., Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
Mark 3:20-35 (NRSV)
20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons." 23 And he called them to him, and spoke 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 his end has come. 27 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.
28 "Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— 30 for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." 33 And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark 3:20-35 (The Message)
20 Jesus came home and, as usual, a crowd gathered—so many making demands on him that there wasn't even time to eat. 21 His friends heard what was going on and went to rescue him, by force if necessary. They suspected he was getting carried away with himself.
22 The religion scholars from Jerusalem came down spreading rumors that he was working black magic, using devil tricks to impress them with spiritual power. 23 Jesus confronted their slander with a story: "Does it make sense to send a devil to catch a devil, to use Satan to get rid of Satan? 24 A constantly squabbling family disintegrates. If Satan were fighting Satan, there soon wouldn't be any Satan left. 25-26-27 Do you think it's possible in broad daylight to enter the house of an awake, able-bodied man, and walk off with his possessions unless you tie him up first? Tie him up, though, and you can clean him out.
28 "Listen to this carefully. I'm warning you. There's nothing done or said that can't be forgiven. 29 But if you persist in your slanders against God's Holy Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you're sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives." 30 He gave this warning because they were accusing him of being in league with Evil.
31 Just then his mother and brothers showed up. Standing outside, they relayed a message that they wanted a word with him. 32 He was surrounded by the crowd when he was given the message, "Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside looking for you."
33 Jesus responded, "Who do you think are my mother and brothers?" 34 Looking around, taking in everyone seated around him, he said, "Right here, right in front of you—my mother and my brothers. 35 Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God's will is my brother and sister and mother."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.