Sermon: June 9, 2024 Proper 5

My preaching professor in seminary told my class that when we prepare to preach, we should look for the Good News in the passage we are preaching from.

Well, some weeks are easier than others.

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 Jesus called them to him and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?

Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin”

And Jesus 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!

The only line that sounds like good news is: “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter.”

But this good news is kind of undone when it is followed by that blaspheming against the Holy Spirit thing that Jesus talks about next.

What is this passage about?

What does it all mean?

I think this is one of those weeks when we really need to walk through the passage verse by verse if we are to find the Good News that is hidden (and I mean really hidden) in the midst of it.

And as always, when I find myself confronting a challenging and difficult passage from Scripture, we also should back up a bit and look at what came before this passage in Mark’s Gospel.

For me this is like getting a running start to make a big jump.

We aren’t very far into Mark’s Gospel.

This is only chapter three after all, and already a whole lot has happened.

In chapter one John the Baptizer bursts onto the scene announcing the coming of Jesus and baptizing people in preparation for Jesus’ coming.

Then Jesus bursts onto the scene and in five quick verses is baptized, receives the Holy Spirit from God, is driven into the wilderness, tempted by Satan, and returned to begin his ministry.

Mark does not waste words or time in his narrative.

It then takes about two chapters for us to see the growth of Jesus’ ministry.

He is traveling all over Galilee, preaching, teaching, healing, exorcising demons, calling followers, commissioning his inner circle, and attracting the attention of the local religious leaders.

Great crowds begin to follow him.

The religious leaders are unsettled.

Who is this man who seems to have great power and charisma but who also seems not to be so interested in religious piety, custom, or social niceties?

Isn’t he from that backwater Nazareth?

What are his credentials?

And the local religious leaders begin to challenge him using religious law, and when Jesus doesn’t back down, begin conspiring with other leaders against him.

It seems that they must have reported their concerns to the religious leadership in Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin.

This brings us to our reading for today.

Our translation says that Jesus went “home,” but most scholars agree that this would be better translated as “Jesus went to a home,” especially as his family had to come to him there.

So, Jesus went to a home to eat and probably rest after many days of intense ministry.

But the crowds are so large that they are preventing him and his closest followers from getting a bite to eat.

And there are rumors circulating all around that Jesus is “out of his mind.”

One has to wonder if the religious leadership has been whispering into a few ears.

Anyway, whoever started these rumors, Jesus’ family has caught wind of what is being said by Jesus and they are concerned.

Mark does not tell us what motivates them to try to “seize” Jesus (a better translation than restrain), but we can probably guess a couple of the most likely motives.

First, they are probably worried that all this preaching, teaching, exorcising, healing and the crowds will attract the attention of the Roman authorities.

And everyone knows what happens when you attract the attention of the Romans.

You end up on a cross.

If Jesus can’t figure this out on his own, then they will just have to seize him for his own good.

The second reason they probably wished to seize Jesus is that they were worried about the honor of their own family being tainted.

When someone is labeled a political troublemaker and dissident, things don’t usually go well for their family either.

Better to stop Jesus before things get worse.

And then the scene shifts.

Mark loves to do this.

He loves to create what Biblical scholars call a Markan sandwich—one story with another story stuck in the middle.

It is a way of indicating that the two stories are connected.

In this case Jesus’ family and their attempt to seize him, and Jesus’ response to them is the bread and the sandwich filling is the scribes and Jesus’ response to them.

So, the scribes appear on the scene.

The Scribes are the duly accredited theological teachers of God’s people.

They are theological heavyweights.

They represent the authority and theological wisdom of the temple establishment—the same establishment whose leaders will ensure that Pilate crushes Jesus at the end of the Gospel of Mark.

They are there to investigate Jesus.

The powers that be are not happy about what Jesus is doing and the crowds he is attracting.

They have worked out a balance with the Romans that is working for them, even if it isn’t working for most people.

Jesus threatens to upend that balance.

The scribes have come to stop him.

They fully acknowledge that Jesus has power.

That is not in dispute.

They are not accusing Jesus of being an illusionist or a charlatan.

They know that he has exorcised demons and healed people.

What they say is that his power is not from God but is instead from all that is bad and evil.

They claim that his power is perverse.

They are seeking to undermine him in the strongest way possible and to set a foundation for charging him with crimes later on.

And Jesus responds to them.

He refuses to join in the name-calling.

Instead, he gives them a simple, commonsense, and logical reply.

“How can Satan cast out Satan?”

It stands to reason that someone who goes around Galilee casting out demons is not doing Satan any favors.

Satan is wicked but not stupid.

Why would the ruler of demons act against the ruler of demons?

And why would the ruler of demons intentionally cause internal disorder within his own kingdom?

Satan’s kingdom is not self-destructing.

Indeed, you can see Satan’s activity everywhere.

Satan is losing his power, but this is not because he is battling himself, but because one stronger than he has broken into his house, bound him, and plundered his property.

In order to bind a strong man, you must be stronger than that man.

kingdom is being conquered from the outside.

Jesus, the stronger one, has arrived.

Jesus is plundering the house and releasing Satan’s captives.

And then Jesus uses the strongest language possible.

God will forgive just about anything, including everyday blasphemy, but when you call what is good evil, you separate yourself from the goodness of God in a way that forgiveness is no longer possible.

The Scribes have acknowledged the power present in Jesus, seen the good this power has done, the freedom he has brought—people have been restored to physical wholeness, people possessed by demons have been released from their suffering, the banished have been restored—and they have called this power and the good it has accomplished evil.

They have called light darkness.

They have twisted what is holy and good and called it perverse and bad.

And Jesus is warning them that if they continue down this path God’s forgiveness will no longer be able to reach them.

They have turned their back on the very one who has the power to forgive.

This isn’t about taking the Lord’s name in vain.

This isn’t about not believing in Jesus, having doubts or questions, or not accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.

This is about calling right wrong, light darkness, good evil.

It is about lying about the goodness and movement of God in order to protect your own worldly power.

And then our story for today ends where it began, with Jesus’ family.

His mother and his brothers are outside, and they call to Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t respond directly to them but instead asks those sitting around him a question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

Then he answers his own question: “Whoever does the will of God is my mother and sister and brother.”

Insiders and outsiders are now defined not by blood, but by commitment to doing God’s will.

The new family of God includes no human father, no authority figure to whom obedience is due.

Women do not need to give birth to heirs to belong.

All are included.

Anyone who does God’s will may be counted among the members of God’s family and if we want to know what God’s will is, we only have to look at Jesus.

His entire life embodies God’s will.

He invites the marginalized, heals the sick, and shares his table with sinners, and he teaches us to do the same.

So, what is the good news that we can find in this passage.

Well, whether this passage is good or bad news depends on what kind of world you want and want to be a part of.

If you want the world as it is.

A world in which some have more than they need, and others do not have enough.

A world in which some hold all the power, and others hold little or none.

A world in which those with the power and resources get to decide who is in and who is out and what constitutes social acceptance and insider status.

A world in which the rules are made only by a few.

If you want that world, then this passage is only bad news.

For Jesus comes to tie up the Strong Man who rules that world and to destroy him.

But if you want a world in which everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

A world in which power and resources are equitably shared and no one has more than they need or less than they need.

A world in which the rules are made by all and focused on helping all to love God and neighbor.

Then this passage is good news.

For Jesus has come to show us this world, to show us the kingdom of God, and to inaugurate the inbreaking of God’s kingdom, God’s dream for the world into our world right here and now.

The most prominent feature of Jesus’ ministry is that he is open to everybody: Gentiles, Jews, the poor, the demented, the sick, working class, women, tax collectors, sexual outcasts.

The only people who provoke Jesus’ intolerance are his family and the normal, law-abiding scribes.

The ones closest to him, his family and those who are, like him, dedicated to a life of piety, are those who are farthest from him.

They are least able to make the leap from dedication to religion to openhearted love of God’s beloved, diverse humanity.

For these people, Jesus’ disordered love of humanity feels like falling off a cliff into chaos best symbolized by the demonic or insanity.

Whether or not this passage represents good news or bad news to you and to me will all depend upon whether or not we embrace Jesus’ vision for the world or not.

It will depend upon whether or not we have ears to hear and eyes to see. Amen.