Satan, Sin, and Sanctification

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today we begin that long season commonly called “Ordinary Time.” This season is marked by green vestments and paraments, and during Year B of the lectionary, we hear Gospel readings from the Gospel according to Mark. Despite the appellation “Ordinary Time,” some of the readings during this season are rather extraordinary. Today’s reading from chapter 3 of Mark’s Gospel is a case in point.

Jesus has started his ministry of teaching and healing and proclaiming God’s love. The crowds are so large that he can’t tend to them all. So he appoints twelve apostles to assist him. That evening, exhausted and hungry, Jesus returns home longing for a meal and some rest. But the desperate crowds follow him home and won’t give him the time or the space to eat that meal.

That is where today’s Gospel reading begins. Even before the advent of Facebook and Twitter, word traveled fast. And Jesus’ family had heard that he was claiming to be on a mission from God and was drawing unwanted attention to himself. Neighborhood gossips spread the rumor that Jesus was out of his mind, and his family decided that they needed to intervene. So they headed out to put a stop to all this nonsense. We don’t know their motivations. Were they afraid for Jesus’ safety? Were they concerned that Jesus might be mentally ill? Or were they merely ashamed of the unwanted attention that Jesus was attracting? (After all, shame was a powerful factor in the culture of first-century Palestine.)

Evidently, rumors of Jesus’ miraculous healings had spread all the way to the astarothdictionaireinferalcollindeplancycapital of Jerusalem. And religious officials were sent to check out the situation. In reaction to Jesus’ miracles, these officials accuse Jesus of being in league with Beelzebul, another name for Satan. They claim that he casts out demons by the power granted him by Satan himself. Jesus responds by demonstrating the faulty logic of their reasoning. For “if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.” Jesus proceeds to tell a short parable that I would like to call the home-invasion“Parable of the Home Invasion.” In this parable, a robber invades the home of a strong man, binds him, and then robs his house. Surprisingly, Jesus is the robber in this parable! And Satan is the victimized homeowner. One can infer that the robber’s plunder represents the people whom Satan has tormented in body, mind, and spirit and whom Jesus has set free. Satan may be a strong man, but Jesus is the stronger man, it would seem.

Jesus senses that the religious officials are not convinced. And he warns them that all their sins and blasphemies can be forgiven with one exception: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. For that, he says, is an eternal sin.

This idea of an unforgivable sin has puzzled Christians for two thousand years. In the context of the Gospels, the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit is a form of spiritual perversity in which a person witnesses God’s loving action and then condemns it as satanic. In the Letter to the Hebrews, the one unforgivable sin is said to be apostasy, the abandonment by a baptized Christian of his or her faith in Jesus Christ as savior. And in Church tradition dating back to the time of St. Augustine, the unforgivable and eternal sin is understood as the obdurate rejection of God’s saving love. As you can see, there is agreement that there is one unforgivable sin, but disagreement as to precisely what constitutes that one unforgivable sin.

As an aside, John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, was tormented by the prospect of the eternal sin. He is said to have struggled for two and half years with the fear that he had unwittingly committed that same sin. Now, he shouldn’t have obsessed about it, nor should you. The point is that a person who repents of his sins and who cares about the will of God is unlikely to be so spiritually perverse as to look at God and see Satan, as did the scribes from Jerusalem.

And now, back to the story! Jesus’ family finally arrives to put an end to Jesus’ ministry. The problem is there are so many people crowded in and around the house that the family can’t get to him. So they ask someone to work his way through the crowd and inform Jesus that his family is outside and insists on seeing him pronto. Jesus’ response is unexpected, to say the least. Recall that Jesus came from a culture that highly valued family. In theory, a child could be put to death for showing disrespect to a parent. And seemingly, that is just what Jesus does. He asks the rhetorical question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Jesus people Come to me all who are heavy laden2He then goes on to answer his own question: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” It would seem that Jesus has renounced his biological family and replaced them with his followers. But if so, he has left the door open for his family to be received back into his good graces. All they have to do is to submit to God’s will. And eventually they do. We know that by the time of Jesus’ death, both his mother and his brother James were active in the Christian community.

Today, many conservative Christians yammer on about so-called “family values.” Clearly, they have never read the Gospel according to Mark! Jesus couldn’t care less about the kind of family values that concern these conservative Evangelicals. What Jesus was concerned with was godly values, such as proclaiming God’s love and forgiveness to sinners, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. Jesus undoubtedly loved his mother and his brothers and his sisters. But he loved his heavenly Father more. And we too are called to love our heavenly Father more. For many Americans, that means loving God more than we love ourselves. Never an easy thing to do! For others, such as those of Asian descent, it means putting the will of God above the needs of their own family. Again, not an easy thing to do!

As Christians, we are called to continually re-evaluate our priorities in life, to figure out at each juncture how we might go about putting God first. Should we stay home and watch sports on Sunday morning, or should we go to church? Should we give money to a beggar, or should we save every penny to buy a new car? Should we vote for a measure that helps the homeless, or should we vote to lower our taxes? Should we take that job that will provide financial security for the entire family, or should we follow the calling of our heart instead? These are the hard decisions that life presents to us daily, and they have profound consequences, both for us and for our families. Now, if you do consistently choose to put God first, I can guarantee that someone you care about will come to resent it. Jesus took that risk with his mother and his brothers. But, if you too would be part of Jesus’ family, the blessed company of all faithful people, then make those hard decisions and, each and every day, do your utmost for him who is the Highest, even our Father in Heaven.

© 2015 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

 

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