Date: Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 7, 2015
Texts: Genesis 3:8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35
Context: We are now in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, as distinguished from the festival and feast cycle from Advent through Easter. This second half of the Church year is less exciting than the first half, but allows us time for reflection on the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church as we await the return of our Lord.
Genesis 3:8-15 – Rebellion has begun. The forbidden fruit has been eaten. The serpent is cursed because it was in this form that Satan tempted Eve. Many people read these verses and wonder what the serpent looked like before it was cursed to crawl on its belly. Did it have legs? Did it look more like a dragon than a snake? Questions abound. Regardless of the answer, the snake now has a special adverse relationship with humanity. Our aversion to snakes is rooted in our final moments in the garden of Eden. Our enemy succeeds in luring humanity into sin – is it any wonder we still carry that primal distaste for snakes in the backs of our minds?
Psalm 130 – While Adam and Eve wait for God in fear, the psalmist waits for God differently, seeking him out so that forgiveness might be received. Mercy is all we can hope for from God, as creation is now riddled with the sin initiated in Eden, and we are not capable of earning God’s good will through perfect obedience to our created nature. So now we hope for mercy, a hope that is not disappointed but rather fulfilled in the incarnation of the Son of God, and his innocent death and glorious resurrection. What the psalmist could only hope for you and I are assured of in the empty tomb – we are forgiven! Our sins are not counted against us! We have been redeemed from our iniquities.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1- The effects of sin are still at work within us, and we suffer the temporal penalty of that sin, death. Yet despite the fact that we decay and die, we hold on to hope. Our hope is in the resurrection of the Son of God, and his promise that by faith we too would be raised from death with him. Our suffering and mortality is transient and passing away, and will be replaced with eternal glory and life on the day our Lord returns in majesty. This is the source of our hope and comfort as we face the loss of loved ones and as we contemplate our own mortality.
Mark 3:20-35 – Jesus has two delegations making their way towards him based on the reports of his early ministry activities, which include healings and casting out demons. One delegation is his family in Nazareth, not too far from Jesus’ ministry base of Capernaum. While we cannot know for certain what his family understood of his nature and purpose, it seems clear that they are perplexed and alarmed by his public ministry, and assume that He is not thinking clearly. They seem intent on coming to get him and take him home to rest.
The other delegation comes from Jerusalem, far to the south of the region of Galilee. This delegation consists of scribes, experts in the Hebrew sacred text, the Torah (which we know as the Old Testament). The role of scribe develops during the Babylonian exile almost 600 years earlier. They may have started out as a subclass of priest, but by the time of Jesus they are not necessarily priests. In fact, they are itinerant, seeking to earn a living from patrons and by offering their services as textual experts to whomever is willing and able to pay. They are thus likely to have been hired to go and check out the strange reports that have come back from Capernaum. However their minds are already made up. But unlike Jesus’ family, who just assumes he’s a bit touched in the head, the scribes are already convinced – without having met Jesus or investigated things at all – that he is in league with Satan, a serious charge.
Jesus discredits the logic of their position. How would it be to Satan’s interest to invest Jesus with the power to cast out demons that already are firmly established in people? This is illogical, and results in a weakening of Satan by internal division rather than a reasonable ploy. Jesus then offers a more logical alternative. Someone (meaning himself) has come who is stronger than Satan. Satan is unable to stop Jesus from casting out his minions. Satan is already then shown to be helpless against Jesus, so that Jesus can do whatever He likes in terms of casting out demons.
Verses 28-30 have perplexed people for centuries, and there is much speculation about the unforgiveable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Is this sin truly unforgiveable? Yes – so long as someone remains obstinate in their refusal to accept Christ, acknowledge God, or ask for forgiveness. In rejecting the Holy Spirit, in calling good evil and evil good, someone removes themselves intentionally from the sphere of grace that is characteristic of the Kingdom of God. Jesus has clearly been doing wonderful and holy things, yet the scribes insist that they are not holy and he is not holy, but rather evil. In their blindness they treat God as Satan and Satan as God, removing themselves from the reality of God and consigning themselves to unforgiveness.
If and when they come to their senses and seek forgiveness, that forgiveness will be granted because of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son of God. But until that point, they themselves bar their receiving of forgiveness because they refuse to see their need for it.
Jesus does not have such harsh words for his family. Unable to get past the crowd and into the house where he is seated with his disciples, word is sent to him to come out to them. Jesus does not, however. His family seeks him without understanding his work. Yet he is surrounded by disciples and others who have sought him out specifically because of his work. His family seek to put an end to whatever nonsense Jesus is getting himself into. The crowds come to him in order that they might be blessed by his words and power.
Jesus’ teaching here is not meant to dishonor his family (breaking the Fourth Commandment), but rather to indicate that He has a much larger family than his mother and siblings contemplate. This family is the Church, those who seek him because of who He is and what He has done and will do, who receive his blessings in terms of forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. Baptismal water becomes thicker than blood, a surer sign of a family bond than our typical way of understanding family.
This is the first of three times when Jesus’ family relationships will be redefined in terms of those who receive him for his words and works. Jesus will celebrate his last supper not with his family from Nazareth, as might be expected, but rather with his disciples. And on Easter morning, the angel sends the women who come to the tomb not to inform the rest of Jesus’ blood family of his resurrection, but to tell his disciples.
Through faith in the identity and work of the Son of God incarnate, we become brothers and sisters of the Son of God, and therefore heirs of eternal life with him. This is based on faith, not on bloodlines and geneaologies. It is available to anyone who will receive it!