Today’s blog uses the Episcopal daily reading along with a headline from world news
60YEARS OF EUROPEAN UNION
Then he 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.’<!– 31 –>
The True Kindred of Jesus
31 Then 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.’
I have said that Mark portrays Jesus as a tornado of hope in the midst of his village society. He insisted that God’s goodness was available to those who had been condemned to exclusion, especially the sick and the mad. The evil spirits that are driven out by Jesus are not the original causes of physical or mental illness but rather the power of their community’s fear and exclusion, its designation of these poor people as unclean. Once this evil is driven out the person may recover their health.
In this passage Jesus is suspected either of being himself insane (by his family) or in league with the devil (by the pharisees). Their concern is understandable: how could the village builder suddenly have become a teacher and healer? Any decent family would try to get him off the streets and any religious authority would suspect the beginning of a cult.
Good – humouredly at first, Jesus argues that it would be strange if the devil was working with him to cast out his own agents, his evil spirits! If that was the case, Satan would be a busted flush. But then he suggests the truth; that he is like a divine bandit breaking into a strong man’s house (the strong man is Satan) to tie him up and plunder his property ( the poor souls afflicted with evil spirits). And if that is so, then surely his strength comes from the good Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God. So finally Jesus becomes very serious, warning people that they can be forgiven for not liking him but will be in real danger of hell if they despise the work of God’s own Spirit. After all, forgiveness comes through the Holy Spirit, but if people have rejected that same Spirit, how can they be forgiven?
The willful blindness which allows people to look at God’s goodness in the world and call it evil is often the fruit of religious, racial or political prejudice. John Newton the great evangelical preacher of the 18th century was converted by his own witness in 1748, yet continued for another eight years at least in the slave trade before his
conscience was finally awakened. He said then that he shuddered at the things he’d done. Of this he wrote, “I once as lost but now am found/ was blind but now I see.” The same kind of blindness led the pharisees to denounce the good things Jesus was doing, just as it leads rich people in the UK to denounce decent benefits for the poor as a waste of money.
Then Jesus delivers his harsh verdict on his own family which has judged him to be off his head. Although they are his dear ones, they have failed to understand him and have acted out of a narrow sense of family reputation to bring him home. Jesus takes the chance to define a new kind of home and family. Those who do God’s will, who open themselves to his Spirit and make themselves vehicles for his goodness, they are his true family.
Mark has put this material together so that his readers can see that when God comes to dwell in a person or community he first of all restrains the power of evil and liberates its captives. Then he unites people in a new family in which his spirit may dwell and his will may be done. This forceful goodness is present in Jesus and should be present in his disciples.