[June 7, 2015] Last Sunday was Trinity Sunday on which we recall the faith into which we baptize and are baptized. The Sundays that follow, from now until the end of the church year, take us through one of the gospels—this year it is Mark’s—as the mirror which we reflect on the meaning of our lives as the baptized, as those who profess the faith. Advent prepares us for the coming of the Lord; Christmas celebrates his coming; Epiphany his manifestation; Lent and Holy Week his passion; Easter his transformation; Pentecost his sending of the Holy Spirit. From Trinity until the last Sunday of the church year, when we celebrate the victory of Christ the King, is really the season of the Holy Spirit and the disciple. The focus has not shifted away from Jesus so much as to the place of Jesus—he is to be found in the disciple (or not).
The text chosen for this Sunday follows the opening of a new section of the Gospel according to Mark. We can see these sections delineated by episodes concerning the apostolate of the Twelve: after the foundation is laid in 1:1-13, Jesus calls the first four, Simon and Andrew, James and John in 1:16-20—they are his chosen witnesses of his presentation as the foretold and awaited Servant of YHWH. In 3:13-19 Jesus appoints the Twelve to be his companions to witness him so they can be witnesses of him, so they can announce the good news of his coming. This section closes with 6:6b-13 in which Jesus sends them out to do just that. The second section enclosed by this bracket is the one we are considering this morning. It is about the “family” that Jesus has gathered around himself, who they are and what distinguishes them. This core, told in parables and typological images, is bracketed inside the bracket of 3:13-19 and 6:6b-13 by another set of episodes, drawing a boundary line: who is not his family. In the first of these inner brackets those who are “his own” (translated as relatives but probably people from Nazareth) come to retrieve him, concerned that he is out of his mind; they are coupled with scribes from Jerusalem who accuse him of actually being in cahoots with the devil because his mind is occupied by an unclean spirit (3:20-30). In the later of these inner brackets Jesus goes to “his own” in Nazareth where he is not accepted on grounds of familiarity.
After this, the motifs of spiritual blindness is enlarged upon as Jesus openly manifests himself and nobody “gets” him, not even his select witnesses (6:14-8:26). It ends, however, with a blind man being healed, but in two steps: at first he sees but only indistinctly—this is the situation of those whom Jesus has called to himself—at the second touch the man sees clearly. The way to this clarity is shown in the following section: 8:27—10:52. It is by accompanying Jesus on the way to the cross, in which he teaches them the way of the cross. What follows is the dénouement beginning with Palm Sunday.
So our present section, inside the brackets of the selection and sending of the Twelve, is about who is the true family of Jesus—his hearth and home—bracketed by who is not. It begins with those who are his own—I think these are his townspeople from Nazareth—who have come to take charge of him because they think he has out of his mind. That word, ex-istēmi, which sometimes means to be astonished (as in Mark 2:12 and 5:42), means to be beside oneself, literally to be outside of where one is. In this context it means he has lost his mind, he is delusional. We might even say, psychotic. Mark does not tell us why they thought this. It obviously has to do with the newness of what he was presenting to the world. He actually has not claimed a lot, rather he has shown others by deed—that “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has drawn near,” at the center of which is himself. Implied by his demonstrations is that he himself is the drawing near of God’s kingdom. Because he does not see the world the same way everyone else does, he must be out of his mind, they think, when in reality it is they who are delusional—for they are not in touch with reality and do not recognize it. By believing in the “world” they believe a lie, they are blind to what is in front of them.
This is brought out more clearly by the scribes who now appear for the first time. They are not Galilean scribes—those who copy and explain texts. They are from the professional class of scribes from Jerusalem, working for the Temple establishment, that is, the Sadducees and chief priests. They were probably sent to investigate but in fact have come to accuse. When Jesus is done with them, he has accused them of being in danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. They are blind and delusional, yes, but willfully so—and this makes it very dangerous to one’s soul. Cross the line any further and such a sin can never be forgiven, not even in the age to come. (Actually, the words of the text means they cannot be forgiven into the “age,” for they are guilty of an age-enduring sin. This is usually understood to refer to eternity, but it might refer only to the age to come, which is a long-abiding age that precedes eternity, that eventually is enfolded into eternity.)
But since our time is limited, let us focus on just verse 27, and then proceed to the periscope that introduces the heart of this section, verses 31-35.
The scribes have identified Jesus as an agent of the kingdom (the household) of Satan, the prince of demons. Jesus dismisses this and tells them instead that, “No one can make his way into a strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he has first tied up the strong man. Only then can he plunder his house.” He speaks of plundering the strong man’s house; in the immediate context this refers to casting out demons from people: by casting out the demons he liberates the people who have been taken captive—who have become the strong man’s loot, his “property” (his chattel and vessels and furnishings). Jesus might have in mind, however, all the people whom he has liberated—from whatever has bound them, those whom he has healed, those who have repented, as well as the demonized. They have all been overcome by Satan and became chattel in his kingdom. Not to embellish on what Jesus does not, Jesus’ point is that he had been able to liberate all these people by tying up the strong man. The strong man cannot lay a hand on him; Jesus enters his house and takes as he pleases—not because he is in cahoots with the strong man but because he has tied him up and rendered him powerless as far as his own activity is concerned.
When did this happen? I would say it took place at “the beginning of the gospel” at the Jordan when he received baptism and confronted the strong man in the wilderness. He overcame him there by the renunciation of his soul which took place at the river.
Jesus’ immediate family was not excluded from those who do the will of God. However, his relationship to them was thus qualified: he was related to them insofar as they did the will of God. This, in fact, is what the Scriptures teach us concerning Mary. [During the service today we had to clear up some of the damage done to her name by overly zealous Protestants. In Luke’s gospel Mary is precisely the one who embraced God’s will and so was honored with the blessedness of being the Lord’s mother.
[We then discussed what Jesus meant in this passage when he said, “and my mother.” If we do God’s will, we are his mother. In an evangelical way we can give birth to Jesus in the world, but my intuition is that Jesus means something else. To be a mother is to unconditionally care for and nurture the children. Motherhood has very much to do with compassion. We are Jesus’ mother when we are each other’s mother, when we care for each other as a mother would. Paul expresses this motherly care for the new believers in Thessalonica. Just as we are not only sheep but we are also to be each other’s shepherd, so we are not only children but we are to be each other’s mother. Jesus does not mention “fathers” for we have only one father, only one who can act in that patriarchal role, no one else, and that is the Father of our Lord Jesus. But we can all be mothers to each other. For however we treat others is how we treat Jesus. What we do to the least among us is what we do to Jesus.
[The passages that follow in Mark’s gospel will be developing this theme: where does Jesus find his hearth and home? It is among his people, those who by coming to him are doing God’s will.]