READING Mark 3: 20-35
Let’s talk about Beelzebul. Maybe Beelzebub is on everybody’s lips all the time at Glenorchy but, if so, that would be unusual, I think although I can guess he is a regular subject of fervent disfavour in other gatherings of Christians. The curious thing is that nobody really knows the origin of this particular demon whose supposed possession of Jesus so horrifies the religious scholars.
And nobody knows exactly who they have in mind when they make their accusation. But it is clear that they so heartily disapprove of Jesus’s activities that they are convinced he is doing the work of the Devil. Whoever Beelzebul might have been, that’s what they mean.
Jesus wastes no time in pointing out this basic error in their logic and condems his accusers in the strongest possible terms.
Jesus’s family are hurrying to the house to rescue him from the gathering crowd and take him home to safety. But in a further puzzling twist, Jesus turns on his mother and brothers who have come out of sheer concern for him. “They are not my family!” A chilling rejection… He looks round at the crowd of misfits and outcasts and at his disciples – he looks round at this motley bunch and makes the incredible assertion “Not my mother and brothers – these are my family!” These..!
I remember a meeting of a District Council. (Remember when we had those in the United Reformed Church? It was many years ago!) One of the speakers spoke of the Biblical model of the nuclear family. When I challenged the person concerned to quote chapter and verse to support his assertion, reply came there none. Knowing his mother and brothers are outside the house worried sick about what may befall him – but also aware they may be embarrassed by him – Jesus casts them aside.
And the religious leaders are on the wrong side of his tongue too. If some of us instinctively sympathise with Jesus’s rejected family in this little scene, then those of us who have any leadership role in the church might feel a little uncomfortable at his castigation of those in authority.
None of these whom Jesus publicly criticises is evil. They are committed to maintaining family and religious life in troubled times. They are doing their level best to keep things going. And yet, from Jesus’s perspective, these familiar institutions are beyond the pale. That’s not putting it too strongly on the basis of what Mark tells us.
Transfer the scene to this 21st century. If a crowd was pressing around Jesus today, who would they be? Disabled folk, soldiers tormented by the horrors they have witnessed or committed, Palestinian or Yemeni children with their legs blown off by bombs and shells? Or might we see a lesbian mother with a baby on her hip or gay men holding hands or holding their adopted child?
The people who swarm around Jesus are a reflection of the diverse mess of humanity – not a group of morally perfect people but one with all its moral, physical, spiritual beauty and imperfection.
Actually the only ones who are not in the picture are the ones who think they know what religion and family life are supposed to look like. The same Jesus who is infinitely patient with the crowd blasts away at these people. And it is that ability to differentiate between the power of the Holy Spirit and the demonic which seems to be at the heart of the matter. Like those first-century Jews, we live in troubled times and we are doing our best to make sense of things and to work out how to be faithful. The Holy Spirit is wild and disturbing and comes to us, as it did to them, in unfamiliar forms.
Those people who crowded around Jesus sensed in him the power of healing. Somehow he made people feel whole, with a vision of how to live life to the full. That meant removing the blinkers that brought about a focus on particular, narrow ways of being family or being church. It is that healing that is the key to this puzzling, obscure story from Mark’s Gospel.
If only we could set aside our notions of who is in and who is out and instead latch onto that sense of healing. If only we were able to be aware of our own wounds and to have compassion for the wounds of others, that might just be the way into the crowd of people devoted to Jesus – instead of the ‘legitimate’ family he so strongly rejects…
Puzzling and obscure this Gospel passage may be – but it contains profound truth for nothing less than the salvation of the world. Who are Christ’s family whom you welcome here at Glenorchy? Anyone who seeks to do the will of God! Let us proclaim that truth by living it.