The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”
And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark is a poster child for needing to check how each of the four Gospels are structured in relation to each particular passage. Between verse 19 and verse 20 of Chapter 3 of Mark’s Gospel i.e. just before today’s passage starts, the writers of Matthew and Luke stuff several chapters in their chronology of events. It doesn’t make any of the Gospels right or wrong, but it does ask us to think about how we hold the Gospels in tension.
Mark would have us understand this sharp conflict between Jesus and Scribes as beginning very early in Jesus’ ministry, while Matthew and Luke have much more water flow under the bridge before we hear of this challenge to Jesus. In Mark’s version, people only just have heard of Jesus and have almost nothing to base their thoughts of who Jesus was, as this description happens. Maybe then it isn’t so shocking after all that Jesus immediate family seems to be concerned about his mental wellbeing, this being the Messiah thing, being all too new for them to understand.
So as we listen to these words this morning, we are called to make a decision – is this at the beginning or more in the middle of Jesus’ ministry. And then we need think what weight that determination will have in our overall understanding of Jesus. One could perhaps say, in hindsight, that there needs to be consideration; but I think that the development of the story line between the earliest Gospel and two later Gospels gives us considerable window into how the understanding of Jesus is growing in the years and decades of the early church. Moving this passage from a cumbersome and uncomfortable run in between Jesus and two spiritual leaders of the time, who seem to have his family on their side; into a more mature revelation of a mid-ministry encounter that fits into the flow in a new way, is at least a conscious choice of the writers of Matthew and Luke.
In Mark’s version, Jesus no sooner appoints his 12 disciples, when the conflict about who he was and what his authority would be breaks out in a rather strange encounter. Jesus goes home, and dozens, maybe hundreds of people follow him. The scribes, seeing an erosion of their power and control immediately play the “He’s nuts” card. They suggest that he is possessed by Beelzubub, the ruler of demons. As we would already know if we were following Matthew and Luke, but what would come as a rather sharp response to Mark’s readers, Jesus says no, it is you who don’t know what you are talking about. Evil can’t stand against evil, because in being divided it would surely fall. The scribes have no answer. Jesus then goes on to say, look I can tie up the evil one and then loot his house. You can say what you want, but eventually you will cross the line in your blasphemous diatribe.
So Jesus family does what every family does when their child does something they don’t understand and they are afraid it will get him in trouble, they gather round him and try to whisk him away to safety by making apology. Jesus has none of it. You are all my family and I will stand in support of all of you when someone attempts to put you down, take control, call you names, and usurp your stature. You need only do the will of God, to love God and love one another to gain the protection of Jesus.
For me, therein lies the meaning of this Gospel story in its earliest form. The answer to those who would exert power, influence and control and make absolutely certain that their power, influence and control is maintained; is to point out to them that the will of God is infinitely more important and it can be found in mutuality, love and humility. Jesus acts from love at the insistence of God. Humans would try to misdirect us and show us why they have a better way. But we know that God and God’s love is always the answer.