Tag Archives: sin against the Holy Spirit

Who is in? Who is out?

Readings
Mark 3.20–35

And then we gathered around that table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh, crumbly bread in my hands, saying ‘the body of Christ’, and handing me the goblet of sweet wine, saying ‘the blood of Christ’, and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me.

I still can’t explain my first communion.

— Sara Miles, Take this Bread, Kindle ed., loc. 1047

______________________

Who is in? And who is out?

In the week before their wedding day, an engaged couple is killed in a fatal car accident. The very next thing, they find themselves sitting outside heaven’s pearly gates waiting for St Peter to do the paperwork so they can go through. 

While waiting, they wonder if it would be possible to get married in heaven. So when St Peter finishes the paperwork, they ask him the question. Pete says, ‘I have no idea, this is the first time anyone has ever asked. Leave it with me,’ and off he goes.

Five whole years pass before they see St Peter again. He tells them, ‘I am so sorry for the delay, but there’s a slight problem. You’ll have to wait a little longer.’

Another five years pass, when Pete comes back. He is very excited. ‘Your wait is over! You may marry now. Thanks for your patience.’

So, the couple is married.

Five years after the wedding, the couple realise that they’re not really all that compatible. So they go once more to St Peter and ask if there might be any such thing as divorce in heaven. 

Pete gives them a exasperated look, and says: ‘Wait a minute—it took us ten years to find a minister up here in heaven. Can you imagine how long it’ll take us to find a lawyer?’

Who is in? And who is out?

In our reading from the Gospel According to Mark today, we have a story about who is inside and who is outside. What we find is this: those who everyone expects to be on the inside are outside. And vice versa.

Who is on the inside? We see the answer in Mark 3.20:

Then Jesus went home. Again such a large crowd gathered that Jesus and his disciples had no time to eat.

Jesus and his disciples are on the inside. We expect the disciples to be on the inside, even though Mark paints a very unflattering picture of them.

And ‘a large crowd’ is also inside.

Who is the crowd?

The crowd consists of people like 

  • Ordinary, uneducated working folk; and
  • Sinners, who may be prostitutes; or people who were ignorant of the requirements of the Law; or who simply could not afford to meet the requirements of the Law; and
  • Tax collectors, who put themselves outside the Law in order to make a dollar.

The crowd includes people like 

  • The woman with an issue of blood, who had been unclean for twelve years; and
  • The ‘lepers’, and paralysed people, and possessed folk; and
  • Blind Bartimaeus, who everyone wanted to keep quiet and not bother Jesus.

The crowd are like ‘sheep without a shepherd’, and they hear Jesus gladly (Mark 12.37). After all, his yoke is easy, his burden light (Matthew 11.28–30). 

If this motley group of unlikely people are on the inside, who is on the outside?

Firstly, we see the religious people, the teachers of the Law. We should sit up and take notice here. Religious faith can open our eyes to what God is doing. It can blind us too. 

We can see what God is doing among us, so we may decide God can’t be working amongst other groups who do things differently. So we might close our eyes to God’s Catholic people. We might scoff at God’s pentecostal people. And, dare I say, God’s Muslim people aren’t even on our radar. (If that shocks you, recall the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Not the Good Jew. Today, it would be the Good Muslim, or Hindu, or Homosexual.)

The religious people are on the outside in this story; they can’t see what is in front of their eyes.

Also outside is Jesus’ family.

Now, this is a surprise. We’d expect the family to be on the inside. Wouldn’t we?

The family are coming to take Jesus away; it’s their responsibility. ‘He’s gone mad’, that’s what people are saying about Jesus. 

Why are the religious people and Jesus’ family (including Mary!) on the outer here? They were both blind to what Jesus was doing. They wanted to restrain him.

We can accept that the family’s motivation was a misplaced sense of concern. They are worried about what people are saying. Jesus may be bringing shame upon them. 

The teachers of the Law? Their motivation was concern for themselves and the status quo they benefitted so well from. They wanted to bring Jesus down.

Of course, they were worse than Jesus’ family. But Mark is telling us that the effect is the same. People who want to come to Jesus, the crowd, the sheep without a shepherd, are being sent away.

This reminds me of the question John the Baptist had his disciples ask of Jesus. (Matthew 11.3–6)

Tell us, are you the one John said was going to come, or should we expect someone else?

And Jesus replies,

Go back and tell John what you are hearing and seeing: the blind can see, the lame can walk, those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor. How happy are those who have no doubts about me!

The mark of Jesus’ ministry is that the sick are healed and the poor—including those tax collectors, who were beyond the pale—come to him.

We all know of people whose behaviour is beyond the pale. Can’t they come to Jesus, even if it’s not through our ministrations? Can’t they come to Jesus, even if it’s through the ministry of Catholics or pentecostals?

I can’t finish without a quick word about the sin against the Holy Spirit. Some of us may have worried at times if we have committed that sin. Well, if you worry about that, then believe me—you haven’t committed the sin. You have a tender conscience, that’s all. God can work with that.

Jesus was warning the religious people, though. It’s about what we’ve been talking about taken to the nth degree. 

People commit the sin against the Holy Spirit when they wilfully and persistently say that that the work of God is actually the work of the evil one. They were saying,

He has Beelzebul in him! It is the chief of the demons who gives him the power to drive them out.

Jesus dismissed that ludicrous claim quickly. But he warned the teachers of the Law, Don’t stay in that way of thinking! Go on a journey of faith, open your eyes to the good things God is doing. Don’t remain unseeing.

The kingdom is here, right in front of them. The poor and the excluded are coming in.

The kingdom is here too. Let’s rejoice with the Lord, let’s join them!

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The Church is not a gated community (7 June 2015, Year B)

Collect

Jesus, you were misunderstood
and slandered by others;
save us from calling evil what is good,
and help us to do the will of God,
that we may be found among your family,
now and for ever. Amen.

Reading
Mark 3.20–35

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.—Romans 15.7

Today, we have a tale of the scribes and Jesus’ family. Mark combines the two in one of his famous  Markan ‘sandwiches’ in today’s Gospel Reading. The family and the scribes most likely felt they had little in common, but Mark combines them because they are both playing the role of gatekeepers.

Both want to stop the free flow of people to Jesus. Let’s start where Mark starts, with his family.

Jesus has gone back ‘home’. This probably means back to Capernaum, his adopted home town, rather than Nazareth. When they hear the news, his family come. Not to say g’day you understand, but to ‘restrain him’ because the rumour was that he was out of his mind. Some of them may have been concerned for Jesus, other family members may have had the family’s reputation in mind.

Whatever their reasons, they wanted to put Jesus away.

The scribes can’t take Jesus away, as the family can; so they seek to discredit Jesus. They use their teaching authority by announcing that the source of Jesus’ undoubted power is the devil himself. They literally demonise him.

It’s a flimsy argument. They may have made it up on the spot! Jesus has no difficulty at all in tearing it apart:

How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand… And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.

Good point. Through Jesus, Satan’s power is collapsing one way or another.

Let’s move away from the scribes and the family for a while. This story reminded me of a contemporary figure, an American woman named Sara Miles. Continue reading

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Who is my mother? (OT 10, Year B, 10 June 2012)

Who is my mother?

Readings
1 Samuel 8.4-20
Mark 3.20-35

Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.

That’s what the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11.14. In other words, sometimes it’s hard to tell right from wrong. Paul was talking about ‘false apostles’ who boasted about the great things they did for the Lord. These false apostles seemed to be the real thing. Today, in the Gospel According to Mark, it’s the other way around: we have the Truth in human form who appears to be a false prophet. Or just crazy.

Is Jesus an angel of light, or under the influence of demonic powers? That was the question the religious leaders had been asking themselves. There was one sure way they could tell if someone was ok; they could see if he followed the ancient ways, protected the traditions, upheld family values.

But Jesus failed the test. They thought, He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy! (Apologies to those who don’t know Life of Brian!)

The Gospel of Mark is a story of conflict. And right in the very middle of that conflict is Jesus himself. And it seems to the authorities that he’s the problem.

Let’s refresh our memories of Mark and look at some of the conflict so far:

  1. Jesus threw an ‘unclean spirit’ out of a man on the Sabbath day in Capernaum. You weren’t supposed to do any work at all on the Sabbath, even healing work; (1.21-28)
  2. Jesus touched a leper, which made him unclean according to the laws of Moses; (1.40-45)
  3. He announced to a paralysed man that his sins were forgiven; the scribes accused him of blasphemy. They said, Only God can forgive sins; (2.1-12)
  4. He had a meal at Levi the tax collectors’ house, causing raised eyebrows among ‘the scribes of the Pharisees’; (2.13-17)
  5. People couldn’t understand why he and his disciples didn’t fast—Jesus as much as said, Who can fast while I’m still here? (2.18-20)
  6. The Pharisees criticised his disciples for plucking grain on the Sabbath; Jesus said that laws are made to serve the needs of people; (2.23-28)
  7. Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on a Sabbath. By now, the Pharisees and the Herodians were watching him to gather evidence to use against him. The Pharisees and the Herodians didn’t normally see eye to eye; it was a case of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. (3.1-6)

Things were getting dangerous.

And why not? Jesus was a troublemaker. He’s changing things, he’s not following the ancient ways or protecting the traditions of the past. Well, that’s not quite true. Jesus is centred upon the kingdom of God—but he’s not doing things the way people expect. He’s not observing the Sabbath in the expected ways, he’s claiming to forgive sins, he’s keeping bad company. People are worried about him.

Continue reading

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