Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Second Sunday after Pentecost
6 June 2021
[ video ]
This is the Year of Mark in our three-year cycle of readings, but it has been a while since we had a Gospel reading from Mark. More than 3 months have passed, in fact.
Today we drop back into the Markan narrative, and it is all a bit confusing. It is as if we have arrived late at a party which has been underway for quite some time. And indeed that is the case.
We have just listened to the last couple of paragraphs of Mark chapter 3. They offer a scene of confusion and controversy, as experts from Jerusalem as well as his family from Nazareth try to shut Jesus up.
The story so far
Through the opening section of his account, Mark has depicted Jesus as someone who is having an impact everywhere that he goes and with everyone that he meets:
- Baptized by John (Advent 2 on December 6, Baptism of the Lord on January 10)
- Testing in wilderness (First Sunday in Lent, February 21)
- Fishermen by lake called as disciples (January 24)
- Man with a demon healed (January 31)
- Crowds gather seeking healing (February 7)
- A leper is healed (February 14)
Then a series of episodes we did not hear this year due to the dates for Lent and Easter:
- Paralyzed man healed (Sunday #7)
- Call of Levi the tax-collector (Sunday #8)
- Healing of man with withered hand (Sunday #9)
The scene today
Jesus has been making an impression on people!
At the end of all that activity, the sentence just before today’s excerpt says simply, “then he went home.”
Interestingly, “home” for Jesus was not Nazareth now, but a house in Capernaum. It was probably the home of Simon Peter, where Jesus had established himself during the early weeks of his work down by the lake.
As it happens, we think we know exactly which house that was. If we are right, that would be one of the very few times when we can take a text from the Bible and say, “This is the spot where it happened. Here is the house where Jesus stayed.”
So Jesus had gone home.
But he is not going to get any time alone.
There were so many people crowded around that little house that Jesus called home. They could not even eat for the crowd of people. It filled every corner of their small courtyard and there was nowhere to prepare any food.
Then two sets of special visitors arrive.
This is clearly a story that is spread over several days as people coming from out of town need time to get there.
The family of Jesus hear what has been happening, and they are concerned for his well-being. As Mark expressed it:
When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”[Mark 3:21]
People were saying that Jesus had become deranged, and his family wanted to take him home for care and treatment: “your mother and your brothers and your sisters …” (v. 32)
The religious experts from Jerusalem (“scribes”) also arrive. They agree with the rumour spreading among the people, but they have not come with the same desire to protect Jesus and get him away for his own well-being. They have come with a diagnosis ready to declare, as they announce that Jesus is possessed by a demon, and not just any demon but the prince of demons:
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” [Mark 3:22]
This not going to end well.
Mark has set up the scene is such a way that Jesus has no option but to reject both the religion experts from Jerusalem as well as his own family. If he agrees with either of them then his mission is over.
Since this is only the last part of chapter 3, we can guess how this is going to develop.
First of all, Jesus challenges the convenient diagnosis of the religion experts. Since he has been casting out demons from other people himself, how can he be possessed by the prince of demons? “A house divided against itself will not survive.” More than that, choosing to describe himself as a home invader, Jesus points out that he could only plunder the house of the strong man if has first overpowered the homeowner.
That may not have been the best self-defense Jesus could have used, but he follows it up with a powerful warning:
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” [Mark 3:28–29]
There is no helping anyone who mistakes the Spirit of God for the power of darkness.
We are not told how the religion experts evaluated Jesus’ response to their hasty judgments, because the story moves across to the other set of visitors who have just arrived from Nazareth:
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” [Mark 3:31–32]
Notice, by the way, two people who are missing from that family group: there is no mention of a father, and no mention of a wife. Those who come to rescue Jesus from himself are his mother, his brothers and his sisters. We find the same cast of characters in Mark 6 when Jesus does finally make a visit to his hometown of Nazareth:
They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. [Mark 6:2–3]
As Mark tells the story, these are the people who come to bring Jesus home. And in neither place are we told the names of his sisters.
We know that Jesus is not going to accept their kind offer to take him home for a rest! In fact, he will not even speak with them!
And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” [Mark 3:33–35]
Jesus has come home to Capernaum, to Peter’s place, for a rest.
He gets no rest. The crowd thinks he is going mad. The religion experts from Jerusalem think he has sold out to the Devil. His own family want him to come home and abandon this kingdom of God nonsense.
Where are we in that scene?
Are we the religion experts, who think we know how God’s work is supposed to be done? Have we put God into a little box? Is our God only allowed to act in the ways we remember him doing in the past? Worse still, might we mistake a new thing that God’s Spirit is doing among us as the work of the Devil? If so, what hope is there for us?
Are we the family from Nazareth? We care about Jesus, but we think he has gone a bit extreme ever since he went to that revival meeting with John the Baptizer down south! Let’s bring Jesus home, give him some of mum’s cooking, and let him rest up until he settles down …
Are we the perhaps the strange young man from Nazareth, who has no religious training, but whose soul resonates with the call of God on his life? In saying yes to God, Jesus calls others to prepare for the coming of the reign of God, the kingdom of heaven.
Are we perhaps in the crowd that has been gathering around Jesus? We found healing. Our demons disappeared. The ailments which crippled us, vanished. We want more. We crowd around the house that Jesus calls home …
I hope you are with me in the crowd.
Like me, I hope you are glad that Jesus chose to stay with us rather than go home with his family.