‘Mark’ (whoever he was) is a skilful writer. He has a plan. The stories he gives us are meant to fit together. It often helps to read a whole chapter in one go. That way we can get his drift and begin to understand what he is telling us about Jesus.
Chapter 3 is about people who just don’t get what Jesus is about, even his family. At the end of the chapter, Mark gives us a strong hint about how to get it – how to really ‘see’ Jesus.
The chapter begins in a synagogue with people who don’t see. Or rather they only see what they want to see. They’ve made up their minds and are watching, waiting to pounce if Jesus puts a foot wrong, breaks the rules….
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent…..
Mark has just given us the story about new wine bursting old wineskins (see my previous blog post). Here’s the new wine of Presence and love overriding religious rules. As Brother Roger of Taize said, “Nothing is really serious except the loss of love.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but ‘they’ can sometimes be the critical voices in my head which are watching to see if people are going break the rules. I mean, I’ve got standards haven’t I, and I think people ought to live up to my standards! The voice in my head can be lightening quick with criticism of others (and incidentally of myself when I fail to live up to my own standards). Like those watching Jesus in the synagogue, I can be afraid of the reckless, outrageous, healing abundance of Compassionate Presence.
Jump for a moment to verse 21:
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 Beelzebub, and by the ruler of demons he casts out demons.’
The gossip is upsetting Jesus’ family. It’s serious: much more serious than not keeping the religious rules. So Mark follows this with a comment about the stark danger of cynicism, of a blindness so absolute that it is impossible to see compassion and love when it is staring you in the face.
….whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never receive forgiveness….
Then comes Mark’s punchline story.
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting round 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.’
Some time before Mark wrote his Gospel, Paul of Tarsus had written a letter to Christians in Galatia:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Our sexual orientation, the circumstances of our life (whether inherited or adopted), the roles we play – father, mother, business person, social reformer, etc. etc. – are all an important part of living but they are all secondary to the essence of who we are. To follow the teaching and example of Jesus of Nazareth is to discover this profound truth about ourselves: we are human beings-in-communion, with God, and with the whole of creation. Discovering the will of God, as Jesus puts it, is not a question of, ‘Right, this is what I have to do next.’ It is the startling discovery that – to quote Irenaeus, an early Bishop – ‘the glory of God is a human being fully alive.’