The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson are as likely to offend us as they did the first people to hear them in first-century Judea. In a few short verses, Jesus turns His back on His family from Nazareth and on the scribes, who stand as representatives of His homeland. He says that His ultimate loyalty in life does not go to His family, nor His country.
The clincher comes in Mark 3:34-35, where we’re told: “Then [Jesus] looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’”
We’re going to dig more deeply into this passage. But first, we need to understand the context in which Jesus says these words.
What was going on before the set of personal encounters in which Jesus said these things?
In Mark 3:13-19, Jesus, we’re told, went up on a mountain and called twelve people to be His apostles. Jesus was going to train these men for the time after His death, resurrection, and ascension when He would send them to lead the Church in spreading the good news of new life for all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus as God and Savior.
The apostles, like the twelve sons of Jacob in Old Testament times, are to be the founding fathers of a new community of faith, the Church, a new creation, that lasts for all eternity.
After Jesus calls the apostles, Mark 3:20 tells us that Jesus and His new founding family of faith, go into a house.
Some translations say "His house,” which would make sense because we know that by this point in His life, Jesus had left Nazareth and was living in a house at Capernaum, on shores of the Sea of Galilee.
But this seemingly insignificant word, house, is really important for what comes in our gospel lesson. In it, the confrontation between the house of Jesus and the house of Satan comes into full view, as does a shocking revelation of who lives in those two places.
And it forces us to ask, where do we live each day, in the house of Jesus or in the house of Satan, which is the house where things other than the one true God is worshiped, where things like family, tradition, security, and country hold a higher place than the God we know in Jesus?
Verse 20, the first verse of our Gospel lesson, says that a huge group of people crowded around Jesus’ house. This, of course, had been going on since Jesus began His public ministry. By this point though, Jesus' family is starting to freak out. Look at verse 20: “...when his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
You’re reading that right. Jesus’ own family turned against Him, including, as we’ll see, His mother, Mary.
They want to try to get Jesus out of the house, away from the apostles and the crowd, and presumably back to Nazareth.
The passage says that they wanted to “lay hold of Him,” a phrase that translates the word, kratese, from the Greek in which Mark originally wrote his gospel; it also means arrest and it’s the same word that Mark used of the arrest of both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself.
Jesus’ family want to stop Jesus from continuing His ministry. They want to arrest Jesus' ministry.
They say that Jesus is “out of His mind,” literally “beside Himself.” In those days, mental illness, being out of one’s mind, was equated with being possessed by a demon! This is what Jesus' mother and brothers think of Jesus!
Why would they think that?
Probably because, as one pastor wrote several years ago, Jesus is violating “the family script.” In first century Judea, loyalty to family was equated with loyalty to God and country. There were certain things family members were expected to do. For example, the oldest son was expected to inherit the lion’s share of his father’s estate, take his widowed mother into his home, and continue the family business and way of life.
But Jesus had violated all those expectations. Jesus broke theworld's script to fulfill God's Scripture. He’d left Nazareth, forsaking the family business and while we know that He would later provide for the care of His mother, Mary, by entrusting her to His friend, John, He didn’t have Mary living with Him in Capernaum.
Maybe when Mary so faithfully accepted that her firstborn was going to be the Messiah, she hadn’t thought it would entail His leaving His family behind and being so radically committed to doing His Father’s will.
In any case, one can easily imagine the conversations of Mary and the rest of Jesus’ family: “Jesus has gone out of His mind, mother." "We have to get him away from all those people. He's making a fool of Himself and endangering Himself and everyone else.”
Sometimes, our families are the people who will work the hardest to keep us from Jesus Christ.
A pastor in Brooklyn reports that among the biggest obstacles his congregation faces in reaching out to young people involved in selling drugs is the pressure the kids get from their parents.
Selling drugs can bring a lot of money into a household. When a young person involved in that trade wants to know more about Jesus Christ, their parents become concerned about the possible loss of income. The parents will tell their kids things like, “Stay away from those Christians. Why do you want to become a religious fanatic? Why do you want to turn your back on your family?”
Less dramatic, but more subtle was my own personal experience with family pressure working against the living out of faith. I remember the reaction of my mother after I had come to faith in Christ and told her that, on Christmas Eve, we would be arriving for the family gift exchange after we’d gone to the Christmas Eve service. You’d have thought I’d just told them I’d joined the Mafia! Why would I want to disrupt the family’s Christmas celebrations by going to worship on Christmas Eve?
This was the kind of opposition, taken to the nth degree, that Jesus faced from His own earthly family as He pursued the will of God.
But they weren’t the only ones against Jesus’ pursuit of the will of His Father. In verse 22, the scribes, guardians of Jewish religious faith, the Jewish nation, and Jewish patriotism, come after Jesus, too. Look, they say of Him, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” Satan, the scribes claim, possesses Jesus and it’s through the power of Satan that Jesus is able to cast out demons.
In verses 23-25, Jesus responds to their accusations: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
In other words, Jesus is saying, if Satan is setting out to destroy his own kingdom--the household of Satan--by giving Jesus the power to cast out demons, Satan’s house wouldn’t stand for long. Jesus cuts the Scribes' argument to pieces--clearly demonstrating that He isn’t out of His mind or filled with a demon. I love the way Eugene Peterson renders verse 26 in The Message: “If Satan were fighting Satan, there soon wouldn't be any Satan left.” So, Jesus is saying, whether I am sent by God or by Satan, the jig is up for Satan. Satan’s kingdom--His household--is being destroyed.
But in reality, Jesus says in verse 27, something else is happening: Someone stronger than Satan, God Himself, is entering the house of Satan and stealing away those who have been kidnapped by Him through sin and death and giving new and everlasting life to Jesus, the stronger one.
What Jesus says next is critically important. Neither His family nor the scribes believed in Jesus for one simple reason: They refused to heed the witness of the Holy Spirit and the simple evidence before them.
You see, Jesus was doing all that the Old Testament prophets had revealed hundreds of years before that the Messiah, God’s anointed King, would do. But instead of believing the witness of God’s Holy Spirit about Who Jesus was, Jesus’ family and the scribes accused Jesus of having a demon. This is why Jesus says, beginning in verse 28: “...people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
The New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit has two major functions: (1) to convict us of our sin that brings only death and (2) to convince us of the grace He bears for we sinners and how through repentant faith in Christ, He forgives us our sin and gives us new and everlasting life with Him.
The Spirit teaches that through Jesus and our faith in Him, we leave the household of Satan, where people live in bondage to sin and cannot free themselves, and enter the household of God. When people willfully refuse to heed what the Holy Spirit teaches about Jesus, they erect a wall between God and them. The free gift of new life offered by Jesus can to any person who believes in Jesus Christ. But that new life will not come to those who refuse to believe the witness of the Holy Spirit about Jesus, the Son of God.
Many things in this world can work to drive a wedge between Jesus and us. We see some of them in today’s lesson: families, friends, careers, and country. But, as important as those things are, none of them can bring us life with God, peace with God, or the hope of eternity. Only life with Jesus can bring us these things and much more.
When the world--even the people closest to us who we love the most--tries to put anything ahead of Jesus and the will of God that we believe in Him, we must learn from Jesus and resist that pressure.
When we do that, Jesus says, He will keep a promise to us, a promise sealed by His death and resurrection: “...the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)
So stand firm!
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio]