By the Rev. Darren Miner
Last Sunday, we began that long season commonly called “Ordinary Time.” This season is marked by green vestments, and during Year B of the lectionary, we hear Gospel readings from the Gospel according to Mark. Despite the name “Ordinary Time,” some of the readings during this season are anything but ordinary. 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 same evening, exhausted and hungry, Jesus returns home to Capernaum 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. Then, we are told, back in Nazareth, some 25 miles away, Jesus’ family hears a rumor that Jesus is out of his mind, and they decide to intervene, to put a stop to his ministry. Perhaps they are afraid for Jesus’ safety. Perhaps they are concerned that Jesus might really be mentally ill. Or perhaps they are just embarrassed by the all the gossip. We don’t know their motivations.
Eventually, the rumor of Jesus’ miraculous healings reaches the capital, 100 miles to the south. (Even before the advent of Facebook and Twitter, word traveled fast.) And religious officials are 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 the king of demons. 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 “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 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 some 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 proceeds to condemn it as the work of the Devil. In the Letter to the Hebrews, however, the one unforgivable sin is said to be apostasy, the abandonment by a Christian of his or her faith in Jesus Christ. And in later Church tradition, the unforgivable and eternal sin is understood as the total rejection of God’s saving love. Perhaps the best way to characterize this unforgivable sin is to say that it is the stubborn and willful refusal to recognize God when we encounter him.
But let’s get 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 pass the word through the crowd and inform Jesus that his family is outside and insists on seeing him without delay. Jesus’ response is unexpected, to say the least. Recall that Jesus came from a culture in which 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?” He 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 is renouncing his biological family and replacing 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 members of the Christian community.
But what about us today? As modern-day Christians living in the United States of America, how should we answer Jesus’ question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Whom should we recognize as our family? I would submit that the answer Jesus gave still applies: whoever does the will of God is our brother and our sister and our mother. In particular, the faithful Christians doing the will of God in Israel and Palestine are our brothers and sisters and mothers. As you know, I just got back from a two-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While there, the group I was with had the privilege to meet with Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. He confirmed what we had already seen with our own eyes: Christians living in the Holy Land need our support. He went on to tell us that the Anglican hospital in Gaza is quite literally overwhelmed by patients injured during recent conflicts with the Israeli security forces. They are running out of medical supplies and fuel for their generators. So today, we have the opportunity to acknowledge our family in Israel and Palestine and to give them some much-needed help. If you will make a donation to the “Rector’s Discretionary Fund” by June 24, I will forward the amount collected to our brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem to use where the need is greatest. I pray that you will find it in your hearts to make a very generous contribution. After all, they are our family!
© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.