Ordinary 10B; Proper 5
Jesus has it coming at him from all sides.
And we’re only in the third chapter of Mark. Not only are the religious elites saying he is possessed by Satan, his own family thinks he is out of his mind. I wonder what the just appointed 12 think of this scene. The crowd is so boisterous, big and needy that eating in Jesus’ own home isn’t an option. Jesus’ family seeks to restrain him. The scribes say Jesus is ruled by the ruler of the demons. Jesus then calls “them” and spoke to “them” in parables. Who, exactly, is “them”? The 12? Jesus’ family? The scribes? The crowds? All of “them”? Regardless, he launches into a lecture about Satan and a house divided and tying up the strong man when breaking into a house. Oh, and then that bit about all sins being forgivable except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (whatever that means).
But wait, there’s more! Jesus then is told his family is outside asking for him, to which he replies: “Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Got all that?
What’s going on in this text plunked in between the appointment of the 12 and the blessedly familiar parable of the sower?
In short, a lot. This complex story with a story in the middle reveals a great deal about who Jesus is and what he has come to earth to do. Jesus’ declaration about who’s kin to him and the binding of the strong man makes explicit that he has come to bring about a whole new order of connection, loyalty and power. Jesus’ mission is subversive, unexpected as a thief in the night, total and unstoppable. The established rules for who is in and who is out don’t apply any more. Jesus comes to bind up the forces of evil and take over the house and all that is within it. Those who join him in fulfilling this divine mission — they are his family. Those who don’t? Well, they remain outsiders, looking in.
This story is offensive. Jesus rebuffs his family. Jesus thumbs his nose at those in religious leadership. Jesus compares himself to one who breaks into someone’s home, ties up the owner and steals. I suspect if I’d been there I would have thought Jesus out of his mind, too. If I’d been Mary I would have worried not only for my son’s safety but for mine and the rest of my family’s. If I’d been Jesus’ brother I would have done just about anything to stop the public embarrassment and danger Jesus was subjecting upon the family. I know, even now, I don’t like Jesus to make me too conspicuous or put me too at odds with the respected, revered, leaders of the day. I am happy to go to worship on Sunday and even read my Bible on the airplane, but I don’t want anyone to think me as one of those crazy Christians. I have been careful to couch my responses to questions, my comments on issues and my selection of phrases to make sure that my faith is evident, but also rational, measured and within socially acceptable parameters.
In short, I don’t want Jesus to cause offense, but that’s exactly what Jesus does in Mark’s Gospel this week. He offends those closest to him, those with the greatest power to hurt him and even, I suspect, some in the crowd and the newly appointed apostles, too. Jesus offends because he upends everything we’ve heretofore thought sacred: family, religion, civility, established order, home, church, country. Jesus calls us to give up all the loyalties that in comparison to God should be penultimate, but in practice become working idols that drive our decisions, thoughts and actions.
Therein lies the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Ched Myers in “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus,” quoting Juan Luis Segundo notes: “What is not pardonable is using theology to turn real human liberation into something odious. The real sin against the Holy Spirit is refusing to recognize, with ‘theological’ joy, some concrete liberation that is taking place before one’s very eyes.” In other words, when we clean up Jesus to the point that his mission is no longer disruptive and offensive, we commit the unforgivable sin. We render Jesus so innocuous that instead of binding up the strong man and freeing the captives, we use him to bolster the status quo when that status quo benefits us. We conflate our wants, biases and beliefs with Jesus’ words and mission and that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
This sin against the Spirit is pervasive and not the exclusive purview of any branch of the vine. We all use Jesus to support our own claims. We cherry-pick Scripture. We completely ignore parts of the Bible. We rationalize our behavior and that of those with whom we agree. We witness divine liberation and label it demonic possession. We confuse the work of the devil with the mission of the Messiah and vice versa. Time and time again, we can see the speck in another’s eye while failing to notice the log in our own. We say we want to quiet Jesus for his own good, when really it is our own safety and reputation we worry about. We make Jesus in our own image, instead of making sure we resemble his. We pretend that Jesus is polite, rather than disruptive.
Jesus is offensive. He comes to make clear that our loyalty to God trumps all other loyalties, including those we’ve long held sacred. Jesus is offensive. He tells the nice, respected, revered religious leaders they are not only misguided, they are instruments of evil. Jesus is offensive. He comes like a thief in the night to upend the rule of those long in power. Jesus is offensive. He gets close to crowds, calls tax collectors, touches the unclean and eats with sinners. Jesus is offensive. He speaks the truth to those in power, to us, to all. Jesus is offensive because he refuses to go along to get along, to bow down to long-accepted norms, to allow cultural or familial expectations to thwart his mission of binding up the broken hearted and liberating those long held captive.
So, what’s going on in this story of family conflict, needy crowds, conspiring scribes, newbie disciples and Beelzebul? Nothing less than the overthrowing of an old, evil, oppressive order and Jesus’ ushering in of God’s divine one. What does Jesus’ mother and brothers, binding up the strong man, a house divided and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit have in common? They all show where we stand: on the side of Jesus’ vision and mission of liberation or Satan’s side of oppression. They all reveal if we are part of Jesus’ family — or not.
- What is your gut reaction to this story from Mark? Why?
- In the text just prior to the one for this Sunday, Jesus appoints the 12. They will be with Jesus, then go out and proclaim the message and “have authority to cast out demons.” What does it mean to have this authority? Do Jesus’ disciples today have this power? How does the reading for today inform your understanding of what it means to cast out demons?
- Look at other passages where the word “bind” or “binding” is used in Mark (Mark 5:3, 6:17, 15:1, 15:7). How is the word used in those passages? Any similarities between these passages?
- How do we make Jesus less offensive? Or do we? Do we, like Jesus’ family, ever want to get Jesus to quiet down and stop drawing attention to himself and us?
- How do you understand “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”? Why is this unforgivable?
- Do you think of Jesus’ mission as subversive? Like someone breaking into another’s home? Where else do you read of Jesus coming like a thief in the night?