There are two messages within today’s overall presentation. The first is the story of a near riot at a family dinner (Mark 3:20-35) and the second is Paul’s encouragement to overcome the human condition (2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1).
In Mark, Jesus is confronted by both his family and by officials from Jerusalem. The situation is so bad that Jesus’ family cannot eat in peace. Jesus’ relatives go outside to confront him because his words are inciting a crowd and Jesus is accused of being crazy, under Satan’s control. Wow! Now that’s an explosive situation.
In response to the accusations against him, Jesus tells his critics that he can’t be supporting Satan while also setting people free from Satan’s control. This is when Jesus makes that timeless declaration: “ ‘And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand’ ” (Mark 3:24). Then Jesus says that
“ ‘whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ “ (Mark 3:29). In calling Jesus crazy and even more so in saying he had an evil spirit, critics were/are supposedly guilty of an unforgivable sin. Ouch! What are we going to do with this?
The implications of the unforgiveable sin are enormous. On the one hand, folks argue that Jesus became angry amid the accusations against him and that he lashed out too harshly. They say that no sin should be unforgivable and if so then why not cite a greater evil such as genocide, pedophilia, or any number of other heinous crimes. After all they suggest, isn’t God big enough to absorb even our insults?
Other interpreters reject any suggestion that Jesus mis-spoke or overreacted. They argue that Jesus was entirely justified in his condemnation and that we have no right to question anything that God does or says. Blaspheming the holiness of God is the worst possible sin they contend, end of story. Either way, thoughtful students of scripture have wondered about how and when the unforgivable sin occurs and the risks associated with criticizing the Spirit. Apparently, saying that Jesus/God have an evil spirit is at best risky and perhaps eternally deadly. What do you feel about this?
Now let’s return to the story drama. Jesus’ family called to him as he was speaking to a crowd. It seems that Jesus’ relatives attempted to deter him amid the ongoing controversy. The crowd reminded Jesus that his family sought him and in response Jesus proclaimed that “ ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’ “ (Mark 3:35). People have wondered if this incident suggests a break with Jesus’ family. Perceived this way, Jesus alienated his family by publicly rejecting them while shifting his loyalty to anyone who would follow his teachings. Perhaps a lesion to draw from this is that service to God transcends all earthy attachments.
We’ve had some hard-hitting issues but now we turn to 2 Corinthians and Paul’s encouraging words. There’s none of the controversy we just encountered. Paul is embracing his audience by reminding them of the futility of trusting in our mere physical existence. “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
Paul reminds us that eternity is a matter of spiritual faith, not about focusing on temporary, external matters. It is always good to be reminded of hope because of our tendency to become distracted and lose our perspective. We fall into the trap of focusing on bodily matters to the exclusion of our eternal, spiritual nature. Pain and suffering suggest that we not trust in life without God. Every material possession and worldly gain amounts to rubbish compared to what God has for us. If you can receive this, can I hear a hearty “Amen!” Raise your spirit by celebrating the love, joy and peace God most wants for us.