Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they 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.’-Mark 3:20-35
It’s quite the scene in our Gospel passage for today. It’s the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, and Jesus has already healed several people who were sick, he’s cast out demons, he’s touched a man with leprosy. He’s just finished calling the twelve disciples to follow him – one of whom is a tax collector. He’s performed miracles on the Sabbath day. Jesus has definitely started to shake things up a bit, and it’s only the third chapter in Mark.
And so it’s no wonder that now – as Jesus and the twelve come down from a mountain and head home for dinner – great crowds catch wind of where this radical rabbi is, and they follow him.
…Such great crowds that Jesus and the twelve apostles cannot even eat.
Some of those in the crowds are probably in awe of what Jesus is doing and come to see Jesus in hopes that they – too – can be healed by this miracle-working rabbi. Others in the crowds are likely just curious to see if the rumors about him are true… However, not everyone in the crowd is impressed. Not everyone thinks highly about this rabbi who hangs out with outcasts, touches the untouchable ones, and bends the societal and religious rules.
And so word travels fast that Jesus must be “out of his mind.”
And when his family hears of this, they immediately rush to him in order to restrain him.
If you think it’s bad enough for Jesus to have his own family try to restrain him because they believe he has gone off the deep end, this is nothing compared to what comes next. When a bunch of scribes – religious teachers of the law – from Jerusalem had heard about this radical rabbi, they travel about 90 miles to Capernaum to find him. And when they do, they don’t just say he is out of his mind. Rather, they accuse him of being in line with Beezlebub, the “Lord of the flies,” which was another name for Satan – himself.
However, instead of defending his actions or promising that he will no longer break or challenge the rules and social norms as he had been doing, Jesus just laughs. “Satan?! How can I be Satan? Satan wouldn’t cast Satan out. If he did, he’d only destroy himself. No, I am not Satan. I am the stronger one who can cast out Satan. Truly I tell you: people will be forgiven for their sins and all blasphemies they utter. However, whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit by accusing me of being Satan will not have forgiveness.”
Around this time, Jesus’ mother and brothers arrive outside the home. And so some of the disciples in the crowd tell Jesus his family has arrived and have sent for him. But Jesus replies: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then he looks at those sitting around him. “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my mother.”
Now, I gather that this story sounds a little archaic to many of us here today. And it may seem quite difficult for us to gather how we might actually find meaning in and through it.
And yet, when we look around at what is going on in our city, in our state, throughout our country, and around the world, I think we actually do not have to look too long or hard before we can see how this story continues to play out around us.
Because I don’t know about you, but I have definitely seen and felt this radical Jesus. I have definitely seen this powerful Holy Spirit at work in the world bringing healing to those who are sick and suffering, hanging out with and empowering those who have been outcast, challenging and breaking the societal and religious rules when they uplift only some while marginalizing others, and casting out the demons of our systems that hold us captive.
But then I get on facebook or twitter… only to see how Jesus – our Deliverer – and those who follow him in his work of bringing liberation to the world are often said to be “out of their minds.” Then I turn on the news only to see how the work of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter and our Guide, and those who are following her lead in doing the will of God often get demonized.
From Ferguson to Baltimore, from Chicago to Springfield, those who have been out marching in the streets this past year for racial justice, economic justice, and immigration reform have been made out to be those “loony radicals,” those “thugs,” those “undeserving illegals,” those “demonic liberals.”
And if you’ve watched the news or have been on facebook or twitter at all this week, you have likely seen some of this type of “crazy-making” and “demonizing” of Caitlyn Jenner in response to her coming out in public for the first time after her transition into her true self as a woman. This demonizing of Caitlyn did not only come from independent facebook users, tweeters, and bloggers, but this demonizing and mocking of Caitlyn even came from news reporters on large networks! And while many individuals and organizations spoke out in support of Caitlyn and other transgender folks, they – too – have been thrown under the bus. And Christians who have spoken out in support of her have even been deemed by some as “not Christian” because of their support for her.
This month is Pride month, an important month where LGBTQ folks celebrate who they truly are – who God created them to be – and where they can find hope in the support and love of others around them when they are still often being demonized by many in our society. Every year, many clergy and members of welcoming churches from around the Chicago area march together at the Pride Parade at the end of the month. I marched with this group for the first time last year, and I will have to tell you, it was an incredibly powerful experience. When many people in the crowds saw our group of clergy and parishioners marching in the parade, they were brought to tears. Several people asked if they could have a hug and one person told me: “It means so much to me to see you all here. I was told by my pastor that I was a sinner and I either had to stop this kind of sinning or I had to leave the church. I left the church. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.”
Healing and justice-making takes place through groups like the coalition of welcoming churches at the Pride Parade and through other individuals and groups in our country and throughout the world who work with people on the margins and who work for various justice causes in a variety of ways. It is through these individuals and groups where I see our radical Jesus at work breaking down barriers and bringing people with little hope together to find their voice and to find others who will walk alongside them during their difficult journeys. It is here where I see the Holy Spirit moving in places that many people are still too afraid to go.
But every year, when those clergy, parishioners, and other individuals return home from the Pride Parade or other compassion and justice work, like Jesus, they too often are immediately faced with opposition.
And yet, through the swarming crowds and the overwhelmingly demonizing tweets, facebook posts, emails, and articles, we hear the voice of Jesus calling out: “Whoever does the will of God is my mother, my brother, my sister.”
But doing the will of God, following in Jesus’ footsteps of bringing good news of liberation and love to all is not easy. As we can see in Mark, it doesn’t take Jesus very long in his ministry before he starts to freak some people out and tick other people off. Jesus’ actions and teachings immediately lead to misunderstanding and opposition, including misunderstanding and opposition of those closest to him, of his own family, his own flesh and blood.
And so it is true for many of us. As Christian author and activist Shane Claiborne states: “The more I get to know Jesus, the more trouble he seems to get me into.” And for some of us, the ones we get most “in trouble with” – the ones who oppose us the most – may be those who are closest to us: our best friends or even our own families.
“Whoever does the will of God is my mother, my brother, my sister.”
The good news is that while this work God calls us to is difficult and overwhelming at times, even when we face opposition, God will not leave us alone.
This season of Pentecost reminds us that we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit, who is with us always, comforting us and guiding us along the way. And that no matter what, when we feel misunderstood, abandoned by, or demonized by even those closest to us, we are not left without a family. We have one right here in the body of Christ. One who will hold us, who will listen to us, who will encourage us in this difficult work of discerning what God’s will is for our lives and then living it out.
So, may we – as sisters and brothers in Christ – build one another up so that we all can have courage to hear, discern, and do God’s will.