Sunday, June 10, 2018
1) Opening Prayer
Gracious and loving God,
ruler of all things in heaven and on earth,
listen favorably to the prayer of Your people
and grant us Your peace in our day.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel reading – Mark 3:20-35
Jesus came with His disciples into the house; 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 is possessed by 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 everlasting 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.”
Jesus is no longer living among His relatives in Nazareth. His home is now in Capernaum (Mk 2:1). His family travels a distance of about 40 km to find Him there and to seize Him because they believe Him to be “out of His mind.” Perhaps they had heard that Jesus was not behaving normally. They may have thought that He was jeopardizing the family name. It is clear that Jesus’ relationship with His relatives was suffering. In ancient Israel, the clan (one’s extended family) was the way of guaranteeing mutual protection, channeling the tradition, and upholding Jewish identity. In Galilee at the time of Jesus, because of the Roman system introduced and imposed under the government of Herod the Great (37 BC to 4 BC) and his son Herod Antipas (4 BC to 39 AD), all this had ceased to exist or existed less each day. The clan (community) was becoming weaker. The taxes that had to be paid to the government and to the Temple, the increasing personal indebtedness, the individualistic mentality of Hellenism, the frequent threats of violent oppression on the part of the Romans, the obligation to accept Roman soldiers and to give them lodging, the ever greater challenges to survival – all these factors led families to shut themselves off from others and to focus on their own needs. Hospitality was no longer practiced; neither was sharing, nor communion around the table, nor acceptance of the excluded. This concentration on the immediate family was strengthened by the religious practices of the time. The observance of the norms of purity was a factor in the marginalization of many people: women, children, Samaritans, foreigners, lepers, the sick, the crippled, tax collectors, paraplegics. These norms, instead of favoring acceptance and sharing, prompted separation and exclusion.
The scribes in today’s Gospel accuse Jesus of wielding diabolical power: “by the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.” They had made their judgment and would allow nothing – no good works, no life-giving message, no joy – to penetrate their consciousness and modify their opinion. Jesus calls that attitude blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is a form of idolatry through which we divinize our own opinion or dogma, refusing to allow God or anyone to break through to broaden our vision. This sin is unforgiveable (“an everlasting sin”) because people who willingly imprison themselves in an ideology wall themselves off from grace and initiate their own rigor mortis. Jesus’ condemnation of that attitude was the harshest critique He spoke in the Gospels. He directed it at people who had so entrapped themselves that they would only go from bad to worse, eventually plotting His crucifixion.
The other group whose misjudgment we hear about is His family. Jesus had suddenly become a public figure and was angering the authorities. Perhaps they had some sort of family meeting, whose decision was to send a troupe of representatives to find Jesus and bring Him home to His senses. They had their idea of who He should be as a member of the family, and He was not conforming. Jesus proclaims that His closest ties are not forged by blood or heritage. For Jesus, His real kin are those who relate to God in love as He does (“Whoever does the will of God …”). These are the people He would protect as He would protect His mother and brothers, the people He would treat as co-heirs with Him to everything the Father promised. Instead of remaining closed up in His small family, Jesus extends the family boundaries and creates community. He understands the profound significance of family, clan, community as an expression of the incarnation of the love of God in love toward neighbor.
4) Personal Questions
In what ways does family life help or hinder participation in the larger Christian community?
Do you accept Jesus on His own terms, or will you only accept a Messiah who fulfills your expectations?
Have you or members of your community ever gone after someone who you thought was “out of his mind”? By what criteria did you judge this? If it had been Jesus, would your criteria still hold?
Slander (such as the accusation directed at Jesus by the scribes: “He is possessed by Beelzebul”) is the arm or weapon of the weak. Have you ever experienced this?
Becoming part of Jesus’ inner circle will demand that we drop all claim to importance based on race, gender, ethnicity, wealth, religious status, etc.
Are you willing to do that?
5) Concluding prayer
O Lord, You have searched us and known us.
You know when we sit down and when we rise up;
You discern our thoughts from afar.
Test us and know our thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in us,
and lead us in ways everlasting. Amen.
(from Psalm 139)