Gospel: Mark 3:20-35
[Jesus went home;] 20and the crowd came together again, so that [Jesus and the disciples] 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.”
Only three chapters into Mark’s Gospel, and Jesus has been mobbed by crowds 5 times. Are these people desperate, or maybe just curious? We know some of them are sick or suffering, or they are the family caretaker for someone sick or suffering. They are hungry and oppressed. And Jesus has in three short chapters, set all sorts of people free from their demons, healed the sick, broke bread with sinners, and offered God’s peace. Why on earth would his family claim he’s mentally ill – and the scribes accuse him of working for the devil? All the things Jesus is doing seem perfectly lovely and not hurting anyone.
But then Jesus’ words do take an uncomfortable turn. He first rejects his family. Nevermind what we know about Jesus’ family from other gospels, church history and writings. Nevermind that we know Mary his mother was at the cross. According to Mark – Jesus makes this countercultural claim that the kingdom can not only break family ties – but forge new bonds between siblings in Christ, creating God’s family.
Second, he mentions a sin that is unforgivable. Nevermind the rest of scriptures where God is unconditionally merciful and offers forgiveness to all. Never mind Jesus bestowing God’s forgiveness on anyone and everyone who comes to him. According to Mark – blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. Confusing God’s work with the devil’s work. Looking at a situation where God is at work and claiming the opposite.
So we are left with a somewhat confusing text as a whole, like when you inadvertently stumble into an ongoing conflict between folks. And you can’t figure out where it started or even who was in the wrong – but there’s tension all around…. So let’s talk about the tension. Let’s talk about why this text is uncomfortable. Let’s not be afraid or anxious of the tension – but acknowledge it and explore it.
First, it’s pretty interesting how this text always shows up right smack in between Mothers Day and Fathers Day. Our modern ideas about honoring fathers and mothers have evolved from Jesus day. In the 1st century, your identity was tied to your family. There was no concept of the rugged individual, or people who went off to seek their fortune. Remember the one story of the prodigal son who did that? Yeah, don’t be that guy. To cut ties with your parents or your siblings was to cut ties with your identity, you were a nobody, and you had no status. Not only does Mark’s gospel have Jesus cutting those ties, but Jesus declares that new ties are formed in God’s reign.
Who would this be good news for? Who could hear Jesus harsh words about his mother and his brother, and receive them as gospel blessing? Not me. My mom was my biggest supporter from day one and my sisters and I talk everyday. Jesus’ words sting when they reach my ears because I can’t imagine a scenario where I would have to make that choice. So who would hear these words as Gospel?
A young man with an abusive mother. A child in a family of addicts. A young trans woman whose family has kicked her out of the house. Maybe those who have no family for, and feel alone and isolated in this world.
Jesus assurance that their life and identity is not tied to their family – but their life and identity is rooted in their place in God’s family. That’s good news.
The situation with Jesus’ family bookends the religious authorities’ interaction with Jesus. The scribes are accusing him of being possessed and in league with the devil. And Jesus confronts them. He doesn’t wait for them to come to him with these accusations. He hears the gossip. “23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?” If you are saying I work for Satan, while this whole time I’ve been kicking demons OUT of people all over the countryside. You’re telling folks I’m possessed, while every demon I’ve met knows exactly who I am and what I’m about.
Christian’s have developed a whole different understanding of the devil and the work of Satan since biblical times. Rather than understanding Satan via his role in the book of Job, as an accuser before God. We fall into the dualistic thinking of black and white, light and dark, good and evil – and speak about this struggle within ourselves and outside ourselves. And almost without thinking we equate God with the light and Satan with the dark. And then the next move from there, is giving Satan equal footing, and equal power. Like Jesus and Satan are locked in an arm wrestling match. But it’s not like that. Jesus already won, and Satan’s power is nothing compared to God’s. My Gospels professor from seminary, Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman shares in his commentary: “Jesus’ logic in vv23-27 is: So, either you are right about me [that I am possessed by Satan], and Satan is done for [because I’m casting out Satan’s demons], or you are wrong, and I am a stronger force than Satan [“a strong man”] and opposed to him.”
This is not to say Satan does not have power. Like a caged animal, bound and losing, Satan lashes out and attempts to cause chaos and conflict. And we struggle with that. Evil exists in our world, and there’s no getting around it. Evil is at the root of every force that seeks to divide instead of unify, promoting chaos instead of harmony. Evil is at the root of every force within us that seeks our own good, our own status, and our own wellbeing at the expense of someone else’s.
And it’s in us too. Evil is at the root of every sin that seeks to separate us from God and each other. And despite Jesus’ gift of freedom from bondage to that sin, we still live as though we are captive to it.
We are the house divided. Good and evil reside with us, and likely that struggle has caused our house to fall in on itself on more than one occasion. Our communities and families are divided, and the powers that oppose God are always promoting divisiveness rather than unity. But God is bigger than that struggle, and even when this earthly tent is failing, we know whose house we are bound for, and the power Satan has is grasping and limited, having been bound, and defeated, by Jesus Christ.