(for the Second Sunday After Pentecost, June 7, 2015)
…and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But 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.
‘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’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’
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.’ 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 3:20-35, NRSV).
Popularity creates enemies.
Jesus is popular. His miracles are being widely discussed. Vast ‘crowds’ are gathering. Even a simple meal is becoming a challenge.
There are also opinions being formed: ‘He has gone out of his mind’; ‘…by the ruler of demons he casts out demons’. The people are talking. Jerusalem’s scribes are coming.
And so is Jesus ‘family’. The term is somewhat disputed here. It could easily imply Jesus’ blood relatives. It could also, however, be pointing to the disciples. Both are close. Insiders filled with questions.
Either way, they are here to ‘restrain’. Their motive may be to protect Jesus. Perhaps they seek to protect others. Alarmingly, belief in the madness of Jesus is catching on.
Jesus’ response to this is wonderful: an invitation to gather; a sober, considered parable. No dancing around the issue; no ignoring the growing elephant planted in their midst. Jesus fingers the absurdity of these claims from the moment he opens his mouth: ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’
It is a good question. Is this really what the scribes believe? What convinced them that this good worker is really the disguised devil?
The first part of Jesus answer addresses this untenable claim. Divided houses and kingdoms fall.
Then, however, there is a shift. Jesus is no longer explaining what he is not doing. He is beginning to unveil what he is doing: ‘…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.’
Each miracle. Each healing. Each revelatory parable. Every move a binding and looting of the ‘strong man’. Jesus the devil’s plunderer.
Yet some who should see more clearly are unable to identify the very Spirit of God in his every move. In Jesus’ own uncomfortable words they are: ‘guilty of an eternal sin’. Is theirs a chosen blindness?
The arrival of Jesus relatives is timely. It creates the opportunity to point to the relationship Jesus enjoys with his faithful hearers: ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
The devil-plunderer is inviting others to join him.