Sunday Message for 6 June 2021: “Family Matters”

Today’s message is set in a tumultuous scene, a near riot at Jesus’ family dinner (Mark 3:20-35).

Jesus was confronted by both his family and by religious officials from Jerusalem. The situation was so bad that Jesus’ family could not eat in peace. Jesus’ talk aroused trouble and his family confronted him because his words incited a crowd. Jesus was accused of being crazy, under Satan’s control. Wow! Now that’s an explosive situation.

In response to the accusations against him, Jesus told his critics that he couldn’t be supporting Satan while also setting people free from Satan’s control. This is when Jesus made a timeless declaration: “ ‘And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand’ ” (Mark 3:24). Jesus also stated 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 saying he had an evil spirit, people were supposedly guilty of an unforgivable sin.

The issue of an unforgiveable sin is enormous. Some interpreters of this scripture argue that Jesus became angry amid the accusations against him and that he lashed out too harshly. Out of his anger Jesus said what he did but there really is no unforgivable sin. The argument here is that no sin should be unforgivable. If God wants to condemn someone forever then it must be for crimes like genocide, pedophilia, or numerous other heinous acts. After all, critics suggest, is God’s ego so inflated, vulnerable and trigger-happy that the Almighty can’t absorb insults from far lesser creatures?

Other interpreters reject any suggestion that Jesus mis-spoke or overreacted. They feel that Jesus was entirely justified in his condemnation and that we have no right to question anything that Jesus did or said. Jesus they argue was perfect, hence he could do no wrong. Insulting the holiness of God is the worst possible sin these interpreters declare, 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 God or God’s spirit. What do you feel about this and are such topics helpful or are they simply theological distractions?

Now let’s return to the story drama. Jesus’ family called to Jesus as he was speaking to a crowd. Jesus’ relatives attempted to restrain his volatile words amid the ongoing public embarrassment. The crowd reminded Jesus that his family was looking for him and in response Jesus proclaimed that “ ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’ “ (Mark 3:35). Could this mean that a person’s true family goes beyond biology and legal relationships?

People have wondered if Jesus’ words about a family being whoever loves and follows him suggests a definitive break with his relatives. Perceived this way, Jesus alienated his family of origin by publicly slighting them while opening his arms to anyone who would follow his teachings. Perhaps a positive lesson to draw from this is that service to God transcends earthy attachments.

People have been calling Jesus “crazy,” especially when they disagree with some of his teachings or behaviors. Yet rather than psychoanalyze Jesus it is more productive to realize that just because you are biologically related to another human being doesn’t ensure that the two of you will be close or that you’ll even be friends. Family should love you but that doesn’t always happen.

More than biology, family can refer to your soul mates and closest friends, who may not have any relation to you. But that’s okay. Surround yourself with people who accept you for who you are, and who listen to you and embrace you with compassionate love.

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