June 7, 2015 Mark 3: 20-35
Rev. Catherine Purves
Who is it that you assume you will be able to count on? Who will stand by you, no matter what? Who has your back when things go wrong? Most of us would probably say, our families, those closest to us, our blood relations. Next, we might say our church family, those who share our beliefs, the people who worship with us and who affirm the same faith. That seems like a reasonable expectation. These are the people who would be family to us. I wonder if Jesus had that same expectation. If he did, our text for this morning shows that he must have been profoundly disappointed. The two groups who most questioned and doubted him were his mother, brothers, and sisters and the religious leaders and biblical scholars who came down from Jerusalem. They all thought or feared that he was crazy or possessed, which, in the first century, was pretty much the same thing.
Our reading began with the simple statement, “Then he went home.” But where was home? It was obviously not his mother’s house, because his family had to come to him and they were standing outside calling in to him. Most likely, this was Peter’s house that had become something of a home base for Jesus and his disciples. Mark seems to be making a point about who was outside and who was inside that house, that home. While his actual family was standing on the sidewalk, asking him to come out so that they could physically restrain him, Jesus was inside surrounded by a crowd. The scribes were also outside spreading rumors and saying that Jesus could only cast out demons because he was in league with the prince of demons. Of all people, they should have been able to identify the power of God at work when they saw it, but they were not drawn in; they chose to be on the outside. Neither the blood relations of Jesus nor those who claimed to know and serve God wanted to recognize in Jesus the very Spirit of God.
Jesus always seemed to be getting into trouble because of the people he hung out with – those who were on the inside while his mother and siblings and the other rabbis and religious people chose to be on the outside. Fishermen, Jesus liked fishermen. Various sorts of sinners – tax collectors, women of the street, and people possessed by demons were frequently found in his company. And, of course, the sick, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the crippled, the lepers – all of the broken and rejected people were drawn to him. And he had other friends too: Martha the industrious one, Mary the spiritual one, Lazarus the one who was dead. Odd folks, all of them, but they were his people. They saw in him what the religious professionals and what his own family couldn’t see. The ragtag band of misfits who were on the inside of that house saw that Jesus did what he did and said what he said because he was indeed possessed by a spirit, but it was God’s Holy Spirit.
So, here is a question. Are you inside the house or outside the house? Think about that, because we have already been surprised once by who was where. Who is on the inside? Who is on the outside? How do you know? Are you all in the family? I’m not trying to unnerve you. It’s just that our Scripture for this morning seems to be prompting us not to take this for granted. Here we see Jesus getting really angry with those scribes and we see him rejecting his own family. It seems like a good idea for us to ask why. What was it that pushed Jesus over the edge?
It was when they started to say, “He has gone out of his mind,” and, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” It was when they were questioning, not Jesus’ ability, or his religious insights, or his obvious power, but his spirit. They were asking who he was or whose he was, what spirit animated and empowered him and made him who he was. Both those scribes and Jesus’ own family failed to recognize that spirit as the Holy Spirit. And that was what led Jesus to preach to them in parables about the unforgivable sin.
Everyone fears that there is an unforgivable sin and that they may have committed it. The good news in our text is that there is only one. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter…” Let’s not skip over that part of his declaration too quickly, because that is huge. “People will be forgiven for their sins” – all sorts of sins, great and small, multiple sins, lots of sins. This is why Jesus was surrounded by all of those sinners and misfits, because of the reality of God’s mercy was truly revealed in Jesus Christ. The family of forgiven sinners was much larger than anyone thought. That is the good news of the gospel that brought so many people inside that house.
Of course, Jesus goes on to say (and this is a bit unsettling), “but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” This is the one unforgivable sin that will keep you outside the family of God. How can we know if we have committed that sin? How can we guard against it? And why is just that one sin unforgivable? These are difficult questions if we already feel a bit insecure in our knowledge of the Holy Spirit, if we think of the Spirit as the most elusive member of the inner household of God that we have named the Trinity. But our text doesn’t require us to get all tangled up in abstract theological issues in order to answer our questions about the unforgivable sin.
Mark makes it rather simple for us. He explains it in this little aside, “for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’” The scribes and Jesus’ family had failed to recognize the Holy Spirit in him. They had rejected the Spirit that made Jesus God’s Son. The scribes were actually asserting that Jesus was the son of Satan. His family was afraid that he was at least a little crazy, that his spirit was somehow deranged. It’s hard to imagine anything more wrong. It was not unfaith that was the unforgivable sin; it was anti-faith, the absolute opposite faith in Jesus, which amounted to the unimaginable rejection of God himself. Now, if Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, is the incarnation of God’s forgiveness and mercy, and if people reject that, then they place themselves outside of that forgiveness. They choose to be outside the house, to be unforgivable, because they have rejected the forgiveness freely given in Jesus Christ. In order to avoid the unforgivable sin, you must simply accept that Jesus is God’s Son and that his spirit is the Holy Spirit.
Of course, it doesn’t end there, because out of that affirmation must automatically come a new way of life. It’s not like you can tick the box that says “faith in Jesus” and then just go on your merry way. When you say that you have faith in Jesus as God’s Son, that draws you inside the house. When you are inside, you are part of the family. And I don’t just mean that you have joined a church family. I mean that you are drawn right into God’s family and into that space where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are related to one another. And, surely, that has to change a person, finding that your identity and your existence are inside the Trinity.
In our passage, Jesus explains that another way. He asked that crowd of hopeful sinners who were sitting with him in the house, “Who are my mother and brothers?” Then he answered his own question (much to their relief, I expect). Looking around, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Those who saw the Spirit of God in Jesus, the Word of God in what he said, and the acts of God in what he did were, as far as he was concerned, all in the family. And being on the inside like that made them want to conform their lives to the will of God.
This is more than just following God’s laws. It is welcoming that same Holy Spirit as guard and guide and sanctifier. It is choosing to live inside the house where your life will be changed. It is returning to the Father as repentant sinners, believing in the Son as the embodiment of forgiveness, and receiving the Spirit as the source of new and abiding life. This is what it means to be the brothers and sisters of Jesus, inside the household of God which is the Trinity. Anything less, and you will find that you are still outside the house with the scribes and the skeptical mother and siblings of Jesus, who feared and mistrusted the very Spirit of God who drew near to them (and to us) in Jesus Christ.
The gospel always comes to us as an invitation and a promise. Come into the house. Live as part of the family. Find yourself in the love that binds Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Forgiveness is God’s gift, so let your life be changed. You don’t have to stay outside. Jesus wants us to be all in the family.