Scripture: Mark 3:20-35 The Message
20-21 Jesus came home and, as usual, a crowd gathered—so many making demands on him that there wasn’t even time to eat. His friends heard what was going on and went to rescue him, by force if necessary. They suspected he was believing his own press.
22-27 The religion scholars from Jerusalem came down spreading rumors that he was working black magic, using devil tricks to impress them with spiritual power. Jesus confronted their slander with a story: “Does it make sense to send a devil to catch a devil, to use Satan to get rid of Satan? A constantly squabbling family disintegrates. If Satan were fighting Satan, there soon wouldn’t be any Satan left. Do you think it’s possible in broad daylight to enter the house of an awake, able-bodied man, and walk off with his possessions unless you tie him up first? Tie him up, though, and you can clean him out.
28-30 “Listen to this carefully. I’m warning you. There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. But if you persist in your slanders against God’s Holy Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.” He gave this warning because they were accusing him of being in league with Evil.
31-32 Just then his mother and brothers showed up. Standing outside, they relayed a message that they wanted a word with him. He was surrounded by the crowd when he was given the message, “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside looking for you.”
33-35 Jesus responded, “Who do you think are my mother and brothers?” Looking around, taking in everyone seated around him, he said, “Right here, right in front of you—my mother and my brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
We have all been there. We work to do our best. We try to make sure everyone’s needs are met. We hope to fulfill some expectations that others may have placed upon us while working to be true to ourselves. We test our comfort zones and hope for the best.
And here, in Mark 3, we find Jesus in the same boat as we have been. Everyone is mad at him, just as, at times, everyone has been mad at you, at us. Jesus is criticized and misunderstood by the crowd that gathered when he returned home. They had demands of him. We have been criticized and misunderstood. Demands have sometimes been made of us. The crowd wanted healings, miracles, signs, and each one likely looked for some advantage from this prophet, Jesus. He was the one that they had known his whole life, who was now becoming famous. Jesus loved them completely and wanted to help. He was made to minister to the needs of others. Jesus was so preoccupied with helping that he couldn’t eat. No time for it. He was involved, distracted, busy.
Because of this, his friends and later his family tried to step in. It was an obvious rescue attempt for Jesus and Mark states that they were willing to use force if necessary.
As we dissect this portion of scripture, we see that the people referred to in this story, his disciples, the religious scholars, even his own family and friends, failed to comprehend Jesus’s true identity and mission. They failed to understand the development that was happening in Jesus as he moved from the role of common carpenter and day laborer to what his contemporaries would have called a Rabbi. A teacher.
Here is a more contemporary example. You may remember the name Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens was the late British-American journalist known for his outspoken atheism. He proudly pulled people who were doing good down into the gutter where he maximized their flaws and bullied their accomplishments. After her death, Hitchens called Mother Teresa "a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud". In the face of all the lives she saved and all the good she accomplished, Hitchens called her an, “ultra-reactionary and fundamentalist even in orthodox Catholic terms". He attacked her in some part for her views on abortion, divorce and remarriage and suggested reforms within the Catholic church. What he failed to take into account was her work in the streets of Calcutta. His belief was that Mother Teresa, wasn't a friend of the poor, but "of poverty". No matter how much good she did, her calling and mission failed to impress Hitchens.
Some remarked in response that they hoped Hitchens would burn in a Hell that he did not believe in. Others felt he was one to prey upon the world changers as his ticket to journalistic fame. As with Jesus, we have here an example of one man’s failure to comprehend the true identity and mission of one of God’s workers in the field of human need.
And this is frequently the presentation in the Gospel of Mark of Jesus. One commentator stated that Mark sees the life of Jesus differently, which is why in Mark, incomprehension and astonishment are common themes. Mark views and emphasizes Jesus as a fiery prophet, a compassionate, tireless healer, and miracle worker. Jesus is revealed as the Son of God, that which cannot be seen but is eternal. And in Mark 3, Jesus is fully misunderstood and at times impatient. His human side is considered, making Jesus even more relevant to each of us in our own lives. And in balance, Mark writes of the divine Jesus, the Son of God, who is involved in the eternal battle of good versus evil as the conqueror of Satan.
One of the reoccurring questions in Mark 3 is the whole issue of what is called the Unforgiveable or Unpardonable Sin.
Because Jesus doesn’t say definitively what that unforgiveable sin might be, except to say that it is when one blasphemes the Holy Spirit. This phrase has put fear in the hearts of believers for 2000 years.
I have had people come to me in counseling convinced that they had committed that most dire of sins, the unforgiveable sin, when they came to actually confess sins that we might say are regular to the human experience. Often lying, adultery, stealing, wishing harm or hurting others are feared to be powerful enough to cut us off from God’s love and forgiveness, along with a plethora of other transgressions.
One mentor of mine in youth ministry told me that in his long experience or counseling youth, the unpardonable sin is almost always related to sexual awareness, experimentation or fantasy as that teen body awakens to adult feelings. I can tell you after 42 years in Youth Ministry that this brother nailed it.
But what is this blasphemy that Jesus warns against? In the Greek, the word blasphemy comes from the word blasphemous, which is the word for slander or speaking lightly or profanely of sacred things. But that simply does not feel unforgiveable, does it.
In closer reading, we find Jesus stipulating a very special kind of blasphemy – blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In the King James version, the penalty for such an infraction is as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit “never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation,” or eternal sin, as some translations put it.
In my experience I have noted that this potential sin will disturb us and I think that it ought to! We must be on guard and consider our actions, attitudes and outcomes. But just as I would tell the struggling teenager or adult seeker of forgiveness, Jesus stands ready to forgive any sin (1 John 1:9) and that nothing outside of us can separate us from God (Romans 8:38-39).
Jesus is not talking here about a one-time offense here. Rather, he is describing a state or condition of persistent deception that prevents the possibility of repentance. Jesus’ critics, the religious leaders, are seen here evaluating the good works of God done through Jesus—the healings, miracles, and sound teaching—and somehow conclude that they are inspired by Satan. One writer noted, “If we likewise determine the Holy Spirit’s acts in our own world are actually the works of the devil, then how could we possibly submit ourselves to that Spirit in repentance?” In other words, in our persistent denial of the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we eventually become immune to the prospect of forgiveness. Not from God’s perspective, mind you, but from the callousness and profanity of our own point of view.
By the time we reach Mark 3, Jesus is established as a prophet, teacher, and healer. He has cast out demons and called twelve disciples share his work. And with all of this in the works, it is somewhat ironic that in Mark 3:11, the unclean spirits recognize Jesus as the Son of God. The gathered crowd, his own family, and the religious leaders just do not get him at all. The leaders propose that “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” They see him as nuts and maybe even possessed by evil spirits himself. And as Jesus showed us so often in his earthly ministry, he is called to respond to the confusion of friend and foe alike. He teaches, in a parable about Satan, and calls the scribes and his family to account.
This passage from Mark reveals the tension between the human and divine aspects of Jesus. And as we began, we relate to the times when Christ’s family didn’t understand him. Those who knew him could not see him clearly or fully. We find ourselves likewise misunderstood. Jesus was confronted by a family, disciples and friends, and a religious system that could not see that his life and mission goes beyond humanity. There may be times in our lives when our spiritual calling is misunderstood, as was the case with a mother who criticized me after her daughter went on a workcamp and became inspired to change her college major from business to non-profit management. This well-meaning mom lamented that her daughter would not make the big bucks working in non-profits. What she failed to recognize was that money was not a sufficient motivator to deter her daughter from choosing a profession that helped others.
Jesus’ lived a ministry that was and is outward-looking. It is an expansive perspective that seeks to help others and as a result, he welcomes all who do the will of God into his family of spiritual brothers and sisters. Jesus understood the power of the Holy Spirit who abides in us, calls us, helps and empowers us in our own ministries as we struggle against sin and darkness.
And that we do not find ourselves weak from the labors of love we offer the world in Christ, our Lord has made provisions for us to be refreshed and renewed at the Communion Table. As we soon pause and eat the bread and drink from the cup, we do this not as a memorial meal of a historic event in the life of Christ. Rather, for us who believe, it is an acknowledgement of the real presence we have with Jesus. As we slowly begin shaking hand and hugging once again, we realize how much we miss the touch of those we love. It is a real joy to slowly return to that sense of truly being with each other as we give a hug or a high 5.
And so it is at this Table of Grace. In our meal together, we experience the fellowship we have with each other because of the promised presence of our Savior.
As with Jesus, we have been misunderstood and perhaps even abused for our practice of calling and ministry. But in communion, we are once again affirmed in our work for our God who loves all and accepts all.