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Mark 3. 20 -235
Doing God's Will.

Recall me saying last week that Mark’s gospel was full of controversy?  Well, today’s scripture reading from Mark’s gospel is a really interesting one, and fits the bill. It’s full of name calling, accusations of literally being in league with the devil, and an apparent disowning of family members!   This was not one of Jesus’ better days!  And we have two stories coming together simultaneously, issues with Jesus’ family and the Jerusalem religious authorities.  They are disturbing stories, they challenge our way of thinking about Jesus.  This has been a difficult sermon to write.

After having been round the countryside; the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, stops in villages along the way, back to Capernaum, Jesus is finally home.  He’s been choosing his apostles, preaching and teaching, exorcising demons, forgiving some people of their sins and healing others.  And his reputation has grown to the point where people follow him everywhere, he has so many requests for his ministrations that he doesn’t even have time to eat, so demanding was the crowd that had gathered at his doorstep.  And he’s being harassed too!  He’s probably exhausted from his ministry, and I wondered if he was glad to come home to his family, looking for some rest, relaxation and respite from the crowds.  But no such luck, the crowds at the door to his home are being really disruptive.  It must have been quite a commotion, because even Jesus’ family comes out of the house and gets involved.   

It was so serious that his family try to grab hold of him and restrain him.  They were saying Jesus was ‘out of his mind’.   Wow, Mark’s not pulling any punches, no politically correct language here:  like he’s just misguided or different.  Nope, Mark flat out says they thought Jesus was crazy.  So very different and so contrary to the traditional way of living, Jesus’ behaviour was far enough beyond the pale they thought he was mentally unfit.  Only Mark’s gospel describes this event.  Matthew and Luke, for whatever reason, don’t add it to their accounts of Jesus life. They write about the rest of the story, each in their own context, but omit the accusations of craziness and the involvement of his family members actually trying to restrain him. The expression used was Jesus was “outside of himself”, which is how the Greek words directly translate into English.   We use a similar expression:  ‘out of his mind’.  Perhaps his family was concerned that he was in a potentially dangerous situation so felt they need to restrain him, or they were feeling protective of him, or maybe, as one commentator I read supposed, they were trying “to get him under control, if not out of fear for his life, at least to remove their own embarrassment because of the rising public” scene. [1]

Jesus was thought to be out of his mind; what with all the many healings, and, you know, the commanding of demons and evil spirits stuff.   What Jesus was doing was strange, unusual, different, never done before, exceptional.  He literally lived and worked on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, and welcomed and encouraged ‘those’ people to come to him.  He was seeking out those who were deemed as sinners and were to be avoided, and was deliberately associating with them. 

Word of this upstart Jesus and his ways had come to the knowledge of the local religious authorities, and they felt it necessary to escalate their concerns to the next level, send for the ‘higher-ups’ to come from Jerusalem and put a stop to this fellow.  There was only one way that the religious authorities could understand how Jesus could do be doing what he’d been doing, and as far as they were concerned --  “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons, that’s where he gets his powers.” (Mk 3: 22 nlt)

Why would they come to that conclusion?  Because they couldn’t possibly believe Jesus had the power of God.  Why not?   Because he wasn’t doing things their way!  And they were the teachers, the Temple authorities, they knew the laws, they understood the scriptures, and how to do things, and to whom and with whom.  They knew how God wanted things done, and their way was God’s way. 

I do honestly think they were most sincere in their beliefs that they knew what God wanted, and so defined it as such. Jesus was a Jew, and not adhering to their Jewish traditions and teachings, to the way it was to be done, he was doing things differently, his teachings were different and it was as if he was flaunting it in their faces.  This new way was disrupting the status quo.   They were so sure of themselves, they couldn’t see that the Spirit of God was in their midst.  Not only couldn’t they see the Spirit working in Jesus, they actually spoke against it, calling it Satan. 

That is the blasphemy that Mark has Jesus decrying, the denying of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ works, in Jesus himself.  And the writer of Mark says unequivocally that this is unforgiveable, to deny the Holy Spirit.  Is this really unforgiveable as Mark so blatantly states?  That a difficult question, and I’m honestly not sure.  But you know, I think I understand where Mark’s coming from, because some things are really, really hard to forgive, and denying the work of the Holy Spirit, is well…. denying God. However, it is God’s job to judge who is and who isn’t irredeemable, and I don’t think it’s up to us to say anyone is irredeemable, unless they truly choose to be.  And like all of us, they are liable for God’s judgement and not ours.  And maybe that is the issue here, the scribes, the religious authorities and many others chose not to see what was happening right before their eyes;  refused to believe that the power Jesus had to do these things could only come from God.  And that was blaspheming God and the Spirit at work through Jesus and even calling it evil. 

So for the religious authorities who refused to see or acknowledge God’s Spirit in Jesus, the only explanation from them was Jesus was operating under  the power of Beelzebul—Satan—the prince of darkness.  Interestingly, as an aside, two different commentators translated Beelzebul slightly differently; one said it meant “Lord of the Flies”[2] another said literally translated it means “Lord of the Dung Heap”[3], which would of course be covered in flies.   Whatever the translation, Jesus quickly counters that argument, saying the power of evil cannot be used against its own self, it would just kill itself. Even Satan wouldn’t do that to himself.  He proffers a parable--a strong man’s house can’t be broken into unless the strong man is tied up.  And recall, in fact, it was Jesus who had tied up Satan—remember the story of the 40 days in the desert?  Jesus had already overcome Satan’s powers.  Interesting, however, that when he exorcised the demons that controlled people, the demons themselves recognized who Jesus was – yet the religious authorities couldn’t see it! 

But still, for the argument to be made, Jesus’ ways and teachings over and over again presented a radical view of living that was contrary to the ways of the law-abiding Jewish society of the day, where adhering to the law was more important than caring about the people.   When people’s core values and beliefs are challenged, and they feel threatened, well—it can get pretty uncomfortable and pretty heated!  Jesus was creating quite a scene, much to the distress of his family!   It seems the kingdom of God just doesn’t always fit society’s definitions or categories.  

Jesus, also, it seems, didn’t fit into the social definitions of what was normally expected.  I have absolutely no doubt that his family were convinced that they were doing the right thing by restraining him and maybe even questioned his sanity too.  But at this point in the story, his family just didn’t get it either, just didn’t understand where Jesus was coming from.  Yes he was different, radically different, and he was proposing a way of life that was not in keeping with societal norms.   When Jesus is told his mother and brothers are calling him, he responds who are my mother and my brothers?   Instead he calls the crowd around him -- the ‘riff-raff’ of society that followed him -- his family.  Was Jesus denouncing his connection or divorcing to his family?   I don’t think Jesus was denying his blood relationship to his family.  I think this is another example of hyperbole, Jesus talking in extremes to make a point. Recall, when he was hanging on the cross he actually gave the care of his mother to the disciple John.  I think it was more like Jesus extending the definition of family, being more inclusive, rather than exclusive—that his love brought others into the circle of those he cared for like family. 

So who then is Jesus’ family?  Mark tells us, verse 35 “whoever does the will of God”.  That is not as simple as it sounds.  What is the will of God?   Can we, do we really ever truly know the will of God? There will always be those who are sure, convinced that they know what is God’s will, and will live their lives accordingly, including isolating themselves from others, or ostracizing others who do not believe as they do, and use scripture to justify why and how they believe as they do.  And they honestly and truly believe in their hearts that it is the right way, that it is Christ’s way. 

We can never assume we have the one and only answer, that we know what God wants, that we know God so well that our way is the only way.  That is making God in our image, that is a form of idolatry.  Christian history over the years has proven that what humanity perceives as God’s way can change over time, thanks to the influence of the Holy Spirit.  And much pain and evil has been committed in the name of God by people who were convinced they knew what God wanted, that their way was God’s way; consider of horror of the Crusades, the witch trials, how slavery was justified for decades using the bible and racial inequalities still continue, consider the way native peoples have been treated across the world, including our country. And more recently, the role of women taking active roles of authority is still an obstacle for many Christian denominations, and the acceptance of gay lifestyles is another hot button issue.    While each of us tries our best to live our lives by the way that we truly believe is God’s way, we also need to remain open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and actively seek out the Spirit’s guidance when we’re feeling truly conflicted.  And that can be difficult.  It means living in the grey, when many are looking for black and white answers.  So, how do we know then, what’s the right way?  How we can live as God wants us to, in the ways that Jesus taught?  Are there any overarching principles that can guide how we can possibly live our lives as observant faithful Christians?

There are two that come immediately to mind for me:  The first one from the prophet Micah:  “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6.8 NRSV).

The second one I’ll quote from Mark’s gospel and it’s in Matthew and Luke as well:   


28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that (Jesus) answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29 Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31 The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ (Mark 12)


Do justice, love kindness, humbly walk with God, love God with your entire being, and love your neighbour as you would want to be loved. That brings simplicity to the equation, while acknowledging that it’s not always simple to live by.  And remember, we don’t do it alone.  Recall when we re-affirm our baptismal covenants, we say “I will, with God’s help”.  Even in the deepest of life’s challenges, God is with us.  Always.  Amen.


[1] Don Saliers:  Pastoral Perspective on Mark 3: 20-35 in Feasting on the Word Year B Vol. 3, p 116,  

[2] Nibs Stroupe in Homiletical Perspective for Mark 3: 20-35. Feasting on the Word Year B Vol. 3, (WKJ Press:  Louisville Ky) 2009 116,  

[3] Matt Skinner. Working Preacher podcast accessed June 3/24