Blogging Towards Sunday, November 13
Today’s passage of Mark begins following the description of the 12th of the 12 disciples as the one who will betray Jesus (3.19) and then continues describing those who oppose Jesus who range from the Jerusalem scribes – or religious experts – to include even his own nuclear family. What role does family play in our lives? How do we understand family today?
Structure of the text
Some scholars (including the one I’m using Joel Marcus) break down this section of Mark into a chiastic structure (like a sandwich where the “meat” or main part of the story is in the center. Here’s how they see it:
3:20-21 Jesus’ relatives
3:23-26 Charge of demonic agency/power
3:27 Parable of the Strong Man
3:28-30 Charge of demonic agency/power
3:31-35 Jesus’ relatives
It’s all in the Family: guilt & freedom
Jesus returns from creating a small tight-knit inner circle of those who follow him (the 12) and finds himself again swamped by crowds, so much so that they can’t even eat. It’s in this swirl of people, needs and questions that his family comes to him. They think he’s crazy, “out of it” or standing outside of what is normal. Rather than be excited for his popularity, they seem irritated, embarrassed, ashamed of the things that he’s saying. It’s as if they come to seize and bind him in with a straight jacket and lock him up out of sight for his own good – and for theirs too.
In this midst of this rejection, there is more rejection from the spiritual authorities [scribes] come from the religious and cultural capital of Jerusalem. Unlike the crowds, they’re neither happy with nor impressed by Jesus. He’s playing it too loose, interpreting and teaching the Torah with too much independence. He’s not been officially recognized with such authority by the religious establishment. What’s gotten into him? Who does he think he is? It’s often in the ancient world that people thought to be crazy or insane were seen as demon possessed. Their possession explained why their weren’t in agreement with their family or compliance with their culture and tradition. Jesus is doing a new thing, so he must be possessed. Since he’s not with them, he must be against them.
Beelzebub was understood as the first among the demons, their leader. Different than Satan, he was a Canaanite deity whose name means “exalted Baal” or “Lord of the Flies” (2 Kings 1:2).
Jesus challenges them with a rhetorical question (v. 23) and then three parables (24-26)
Why would Satan defeat himself? If Jesus was demon possessed why would he be exorcising demons? In Mark 1:24 we even hear the demons say that Jesus has nothing in common with them. That would be self-defeating, and just plain stupid. The heart of the story is about the Strong Man, which most likely refers back to God who liberates his captive people (Isaiah 49:24-25 & Psalm 68:19). Does Jesus see himself as the realization of this promise?; as the effective opponent of Satan, the Stronger One who exorcisms testify to his role as the spearhead of the inbreaking of God’s dominion or kingdom into this world which seems to be dominated by Satan? Jesus is the strong liberator. He moves from being on the defensive to going on the offensive. It’s not Jesus who has committed an unforgivable sin by making a pact with the devil as his enemies have charged. Rather they – his enemies – have committed an unforgivable sin by their false accusation. The unforgiveable sin is twisting the evidence of Jesus’ life-giving power into blasphemy that he is demonically possessed, intent on destroying and corrupting what God has created. The parable of the Strong Man isn’t just a strong but has become reality. The seemingly powerful enemies are rendered incapable of inflicting real harm.
The passage ends with a return to the relatives and family of Jesus. He challenges the status quo and traditional way of understanding family, specifically in a culture and religion based upon the notion of family (think of the tribes, the Israelites as “God chosen people”). There is a wordplay on outside and inside. In 21 the family asserts that Jesus is crazy: outside of himself. Here they are outside the house looking for Jesus (v. 32). Jesus redefines family, social connection, - community. It’s not about genes or heritage but about our ears, hearing God’s will and doing it. It’s not a right or a hereditary privilege, but a responsiveness, an action, active solidarity. Jesus redefines family as those that do God’s will, who risk being hated by all (even family) on account of his name (Mark 13:12-13)
· What strikes you in these stories? How does it interact with your life today?
· What does it mean to be a child of God?; to be part of God’s family?
· How do you struggle with sin?; Is your sin unforgiveable? Why? Why not?
· How is God calling you – us as a church – to be community?; to be a family? What does that mean for how we relate?; Is that a helpful or harmful image for church?
Next week: Mark 4:1-20 Look for a study of the text on Monte’s blog at www.monteskewed.blogspot.com during the week to prepare for Sunday.