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 Beelzebub, 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.”
Biting off More than You can Chew Mark 3:20-35 Pentecost 2, June 10, 2018
On Friday night I watched my granddaughter do her best to navigate her way through eating a hamburger. It was no small challenge to keep all the various layers of lettuce, tomato, cheese, onion, and pickles in their respective strata, but when they became separated, either she, or her grandmother would reassemble them, and she would begin again. When she did actually get all the components to her mouth, she would take bites that seem to far exceed her mouth size, and the number of teeth she has to process that bite so as to get it down her throat and into her stomach. I wondered at times if she had “bitten off more than she could chew”.
In looking at the texts for this Sunday, I wanted to say something about each (as they are worthy of commentary), but the more I considered even the Gospel text alone, the more I realized that to preach a single sermon on such a multifaceted text would be well beyond my pay grade. Realizing this, I thought I would give a quick (relatively speaking) Bible-study-style review of this text and do my best to thread the verses together. In even attempting this I may well be biting off more than I (or we) can chew.
“20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat- The gospel of Mark jumps right into the story of Jesus, and by chapter 3 much ground has been covered already. Nothing is said of Jesus’ birth and young life in this gospel, and we go right from his baptism to his temptation in the wilderness, the call of his first disciples, and immediately into his ministry of healing and proclaiming the coming of God’s Kingdom. By the time we get to chapter three we discover he is both a “rock star” with the people, and public enemy #1 with the religion leaders. Even for Jesus it’s hard to be popular with all the people, all the time.
21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” Apparently there was one other group that was not overly enamored with Jesus’ sudden rise to stardom…his family. This seems hard to imagine as we consider the miraculous conception account found in Matthew and Luke. Although quite likely beyond what Mary could ever imagine, surely the angelic visitation, the miraculous conception, the prophetic words spoken over him in the temple, and that single childhood story we have of Jesus confounding both the Jewish elders and his own parents as Luke records, would have given her cause to think that Jesus wouldn’t live out his days in the family business.
But some 30 years had passed since the angelic visitation, and around 20 years since the account in the temple. As far as we know, Jesus had worked in the family business until his baptism and the beginning of his ministry at around age 30. Time has a way of dulling even extra-ordinary events. Whatever happened between then and now, Jesus’ mother and siblings (this is debated within the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, as they both teach the perpetual virginity of Mary) weren’t nearly as enthralled with the teaching and healing ministry of their son and brother (half-brother?) as were the adoring crowds. Mark withholds no punches as he declares that his immediate family thought he had lost his mind, and they had come to take him home.
If one tries to give them the benefit of the doubt, this may have been kind and honorable thing to do. Allowing Jesus to carry on with his delusions of grandeur would ultimately end poorly for him (and perhaps even for them). Get him home for a while. Get some “down-home” cooking in his belly. Let him work with his hands for a while and give his head a break. Time for some R&R. Time to get out of the spotlight for a while. Jesus’ response several verses later may have re-enforced his family’s assessment
of him, and cause the current reader to wonder a bit as well, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And 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.” Has Jesus new-found fame caused him to lose sight of the “little people” in his life? Had his new-found followers supplanted the role of his own mother and siblings? Jesus’ dying words to John to care for his mother after his death would suggests otherwise. The fact that no gospel writer mentions his siblings either at his trial, crucifixion, or burial, does give us cause to wonder if family relations were still strained at the time of Jesus’ death. His siblings James and Jude however do come to faith after Jesus’ resurrection. Whether they are full or half-brothers, at this point in the life of Jesus, they assume him to be “out of his mind,” and have come to take him away.
” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” If Jesus’ family’s assessment of him wasn’t all that flattering, that of the scribes was far worse. They grant that he can work miracles of healing and exorcism, but they conclude he does so by the power of the Devil (here named Beelzebul, a Philistine deity we first meet in 2 Kings 1:2,3, 2 Now Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself. So he sent messengers, saying to them, “Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury.”3 But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ As far as the best spiritual minds of Jesus’ day were concerned, he wasn’t out of his mind, he was demon possessed (or more accurately, they thought he was the embodiment of Satan himself). Talk about a bad day for one’s self-esteem.
Here Jesus responds to his accusers with some simple logic. Stop and think about this for a second, given that you know the Devil’s purposes are to cheat, lie, steal, and kill, and given that Jesus (as even they should have been able to see) is healing and setting people free of their demonic bondage, how does it make a lick of sense that Jesus could possibly be in league with Satan (or the very embodiment of the Devil himself)?
Logic however is not always a successful mechanism in discerning truth. For some, the “brain power” simply may not be what it should be. Years ago I remember trying to speak to a person in prison who had seriously abused drugs. He now had the reasoning power of a young child. Appealing to logic with him was an exercise in futility. I enjoy my grandchildren immensely, but I tend not to have deep theological or philosophical discussions with them. That day is yet to come.
Sometimes reason/ logic is held captive to preconceived notions that become strongholds in our mind. Children of parents who continually criticize them often believe they are of little value, and have a hard time in life. There are those who think they can drink and drive or text and drive, with no compromise to their, or others’ safety. Where has your reason/logic been compromised to the point where you no longer question the possibly that you may actually be wrong about something? In our last reading from Mark we know that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and in doing revealed himself (to the Jewish leaders at least) to be a lawbreaker. In saying that he was the “Lord of the Sabbath”, he applied words to himself that only belonged to God, and in their eyes, he was a blasphemer deserving of death. Since his miracles were undeniable, it must be that he was in league with the Devil, or in fact was the Devil incarnate. He simply couldn’t be the Christ, so ergo, he must be the Devil. Case closed.
According to the Bible, reason/logic can be impaired by the very one Jesus came to wage war against. Sometimes our “brain fog” is not the result of a low IQ score , mind-altering drugs, or even confirmation bias, but rather is spiritual in nature. Jesus says as much in cases like the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac in Mk 5:1-20. Prior to exorcism, the man was ostracized from society (and even himself) and lived a solitary life the cemetery. After this healing, the man’s mind, body, and spirit were set free to serve God and neighbor. St Paul states this about as clearly as it can be said in 2 Cor 4:4, The god of this age (Devil) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
I sometimes wonder if and/or how addictions might be connected to this (realizing of course that we always carry with us our physical, intellectual, social, psychological, relational, and spiritual lives around with us at all times, and they always interact and intersect to some degree). Although not perfect, the primary mechanism by which addicts find freedom is called the 12-Step Recovery Program. The first step of that program is to recognize that one indeed is in bondage to the addiction and cannot free themselves. Once that’s established, the addict is then directed to look to a “higher power” for their emancipation. Sounds almost Biblical doesn’t it? Whatever the case, logic, or reason alone did not inform either Jesus’ family, nor the scribes as to the nature and work of Jesus. Something other than reason would be called for.
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. I’m not going to comment much on this point, other than rather than it’s a precise explanation as to the reason Jesus can do what he does. By nature, Jesus is both true God, and true man, and as such succeeded where the first man (Adam) failed. Jesus was tested by the Devil in the wilderness and defeated him on all three accounts. This was the initial “binding of the strongman”, and this would find its completion in Jesus’ death, descent to the dead, and resurrection on the third day. Both in his nature and by his actions Jesus is victorious over the Devil. The demons have no choice other than to obey him when he speaks and do what he commands.
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.” If the text seemed somewhat complicated already, this probably doesn’t help. Many disciples of Jesus (especially in their early days) have wondered if they may have unwittingly committed this sin, and because of that are doomed to the fires of hell. The good news regarding this unforgivable sin, is that if one wonders whether they have committed it, chances are pretty good they have not. Although not really articulated here, the sin against the Holy Spirit is not primarily one specific sin or type of sin, but rather a hardening of the heart to the point where the sinner will no longer turn to God in repentance and seek forgiveness. The Pharaoh at the time of the exodus seemed to have hardened his heart to this point. In Act 7, Stephen says this of those who were about to kill him, “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” In attributing the work and ministry of Jesus to that of the Devil, those who do so reveal that they have closed themselves off from the only one who can bring about the knowledge of sin (and thus forgiveness of sin). Those who reject the Spirit’s revelation of the completed work of Jesus unto salvation, must meet the Living God on judgement day with their own righteousness as their soul defense. No matter how good the people, that won’t be much of a defense.
That’s a pretty big bite to “chew on”, but may God give us grace to chew on it for a while. The strongman has been bound, and we needn’t fear him anymore. If ever there were a time for CS Lewis’ apologetic on the person of Jesus, it would be in this particular text; “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to’. Amen.