Mark’s Gospel doesn’t waste time. Mark doesn’t have patience for lengthy, detailed stories like some of the other Gospels. Mark skips sermons and long conversations in favor of driving action. If John’s Gospel is like a dramatic, indie film with a bit of romantic comedy built in, Mark is a shoot-em-up, action-adventure flick. In Mark, the story sprints forward. And the Jesus of Mark has very little patience for anyone or anything that gets in his way. Mark’s Jesus is Ripley in the Alien movies. Today we’re in the third chapter, during the early days of Jesus’ ministry, just after he has called his disciples. At this point, Jesus is a rock star. Crowds follow him—Jesus groupies. So much so that it’s impossible to sit down and have a decent meal. Mark tells us who the people around him are in this story: the crowds [Jesus groupies and curious folk from towns, villages, and rural areas who had heard of healings and miracles]; his disciples; Jesus’ own family; and religious scribes from Jerusalem, including those who were enemies of Jesus.
It’s a chaotic scene, really. And Jesus’ family [his mother and his brothers] were quite concerned for his welfare. So naturally, upon hearing the screaming, demanding crowd, they attempted to restrain Jesus. Lo and behold, this is the first time the Terminator Gospel mentions Jesus’ family. And in the whole rest of Mark, they are only mentioned once more in chapter 6: They were saying, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters with us?” Okay, so we already know that Mark is not known for sentiment. But to point out that Jesus’ own family members were restraining him? Actually, the word in Greek is closer to arresting or seizing than it is to restraining. They were holding him back. Why? Because they were scared. Notice one important translation error commonly seen here—some Bibles say that as his family was trying to restrain him that other people called him crazy. But actually, it should read like this: When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” It was indeed his own family who called Jesus out of his mind.
But that’s better than what the Jerusalem scribes said. You see, even though Jesus had his share of adoring fans, he also had accumulated quite a group of enemies, too. The scribes, representing the temple authorities of Jerusalem, were less polite about it. Jesus wasn’t just crazy, he was possessed! That’s right. He most certainly was possessed by some sort of demon straight out of the Exorcist because he could cast out demons. Their explanation for Jesus’ crazy abilities was that a major demon was inside of him [Beelzebub], allowing him to get rid of minor demons. Sounds like an interesting comic book to me.
Were these scribes jealous? Maybe. Did they fear Jesus? Probably. Were they confused by his teachings? Some of them. Certain scribes were convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was a big loony. After all, how else could they explain his strange behavior? He healed the sick and unclean, there were whispers that he could perform miracles. He taught about the kingdom of God in a way that no one had ever imagined. He had to be crazy. How else to explain this Jesus of Nazareth? The scribes were religious powers, so they did what they felt was necessary to push down someone who challenged their authority: they called him names.
But their argument didn’t make sense. Jesus refuted it quite easily by making the logical conclusion that there was no way he was possessed, because why would Satan try to cast out his own demons? If the devil is so tricky and smart, wouldn’t that be stupid? And then, a random parable about a strong man’s house. The gist of it: one can’t possibly get the good stuff out of a strong man’s house without first making sure that the ripped dude is tied up and not a threat. I don’t know about you, but doesn’t this seem like a weird reference? It does, unless we notice the word for plunder is skeue, the same Greek word that appears only one other time in Mark, in chapter 11 when Jesus raids the Jerusalem temple, throws over tables, and kicks out the moneylenders. The house of prayer, the temple, the strong man’s house, needed to be upset. The only way to upset it was to tie up its strength—its religious bureaucracy. Of course, that was a dangerous thing to say with the Jerusalem scribes around. So Jesus spoke in parables. He may have been crazy, but he was no dummy.
And then we come to a very misunderstood Bible passage. 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.” Sadly, over the centuries, some have used this passage to define which sins are forgivable and which ones aren’t. I even remember once as a teenager that an adult church leader once said to us that the sin God won’t forgive is when we take the Lord’s name in vain. Another adult told us that the eternal sin was denying Christianity as the one true religion. Wow, that’s ironic, because that’s exactly what the scribes were doing and precisely why Jesus said this! Jesus points out that God forgives all sins. The unforgivable sin is in fact trying to define what God does or does not forgive. You see, the scribes and other religious authorities forced people to make sacrifices, to pay money, and to perform rituals in order to receive God’s forgiveness. But Jesus taught about forgiveness without limitations. God forgives. That’s it and that’s all. The scribes were claiming–that Jesus’ healing of the sick on the Sabbath, his casting out of physical or mental demons, and his acceptance of the unclean—were demonic in nature.
This forgiveness teaching of Jesus is consistent with the original version of what we call the Lord’s Prayer. Starting at Matthew 6:12: And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Forgiving is both God’s job and also our job. It’s easy, perhaps to throw the scribes under the bus, saying that we would never do such a thing. But we in the church often do play this role of religious authority. We spend a lot of time and energy saying which beliefs and practices are more religious. We also spend WAY too much time determining who belongs in the church and who doesn’t. Like the scribes, oftentimes we are not open to the movement of God’s Spirit, still-speaking in our lives. We like order, established doctrine and practice, and clear categories. Forgiveness without limits? Impossible!
Jesus did not and does not fit into our categories. God doesn’t fit into our religious practices, sanctuaries, and traditions. God is loose in the world without limits—upsetting and offering new perspectives and hidden possibilities; unexpected grace. But like the scribes, we often say: “That’s CRAAAAAAAZY! “ Apparently, it was crazy to his family, too. His mom and brothers, standing outside, were asking for him. The people in the crowd were bothered that Jesus didn’t go to them right away. They are asking for you, Jesus. Jesus replied, Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.
It’s almost like Jesus blew off his mom, saying, Thanks, mom, for caring, and giving birth to me and raising me, but you are not being helpful. I know you love me and want to protect me, but I’m a big boy now…
But Jesus was not against family. In his time and culture, family was of the utmost importance. It still is for most cultures around the world. Remember that we are reading Mark’s Gospel, the one that has no birth story, no family genealogy of Jesus. It is not Mark’s intent to focus on Jesus’ blood line. One of my classmates from seminary, Ira Brent Driggers, is the Associate Professor of New Testament at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. He wrote the book Following God through Mark. I think Brent gives insight when he states:
Jesus will not settle for isolated family units coming and going on Sunday morning, for God pulls us out of our self-interested households, giving us the means of growing in faith and love through the gift of brothers and sisters we would have otherwise ignored.
Jesus redefines family. He doesn’t reject family; he opens up the meaning of family, expanding it, imagining it to be more than we normally assume.
No wonder people thought he was crazy, for this Jesus of Nazareth stood up against all the ailments of society—illness, disease, depression, hate, prejudice, broken community, religious oppression, exclusion–he was not afraid to share abundant life with others. The Jesus Way is still crazy today, because most of us are quite suspicious of such radical, free thinking and healing—especially if it does not seem overtly religious, traditional, or “churchy.” We are often tempted, just like Jerusalem scribes, to pay more attention to the regulation of our faith via church doctrines. Like Jesus’ family, we also get scared and overprotective. And thus, we pay less attention to the life-giving, healing and strengthening relationship we have with our God as human beings. Sadly, we may even stop imagining.
But what the gospel of Jesus Christ offers is what theologian Karl Barth described as the “impossible possibility.” God has given you and me everything we need to be able to think beyond what is possible. The gift of imagination frees us to open our minds and hearts to possibilities far beyond what see and even what we currently experience. Why? We are free to imagine because we are freely forgiven. God loves us first and foremost, and forgives us daily. Being loved and forgiven means we are not stuck in our past or bound to our sins. We are healed; we are freed; we are forgiven; so we imagine.
We imagine a better world that starts in our own little world called our home. We pray and work for a loving, just environment for our life partners, children, and all who make up our household. We imagine friendships based on mutual love and respect, not on material obligation or social status. We imagine a community in Warminster and beyond, where all people can feel welcomed—no matter if he speaks Hindi, Spanish, or Korean; or if she calls Russia, Mexico, or Ireland home; whether his life partner is a man, or hers a woman; or if he’s never been to church and she’s not even sure there is a God. We imagine a church in which they can be accepted for who they are and find safety, love, and community. We imagine healing in our relationships—that one day we will learn to love each other, in spite of our differences and even though we have so many emotional scars; and we imagine ourselves following this crazy Christ, forgiven and loved ourselves, and then loving and forgiving others as we journey in life.
Friends, the theme for the National Youth Event at Purdue University, where some of us will be in a few weeks, is imagine. The video you are about to see is from the vision team for NYE—youth and adults of the UCC who are imagining the new thing God is doing.
A church without walls.
The change you want to see.
A healthy world: where no child suffers.
A safe space.
A world without poverty.
A world with clean water for all.
A world where differences are embraced.
A world without prejudice.