Gospel: Mark 3:20-35

The Odd Person

Have you ever been embarrassed by someone who was "odd?" How did you address the embarrassment? How did you treat the person in question?

A typical social behavior is always a source of controversy. People who act in ways unexpected are not readily accepted. The misfit, the mentally disturbed, the odd character always meet with passive (they are ignored) or active (they are opposed) resistance. Society likes conformity. Those who act outside social norms and expectations will be rejected.

Jesus from Nazareth faced opposition when he stepped outside of realm of social expectation. His peers saw him as a carpenter in a family of carpenters. Yet, the village handyman became a preacher and healer with a mobile ministry. As the reputation of Jesus spread, so did the scandal he caused. How did the lowly jack-of-all-trade gain the power to teach in God's name and exorcize the possessed Was the answer itself demonic or heaven sent?

Popular Translation

After Jesus chose the Twelve Apostles and gave them power to throw devils out of people, 20 he went home. So many people gathered around Jesus and his followers were not able to eat dinner. 21 The relatives of Jesus wanted to take control of him because they said, "He is not himself." 22 The scribe who came from Jerusalem kept saying, "He is possessed by Beelzebub because he throws demons out of people with the power of the demons' ruler."

23 "Hey!" Jesus called out to the scribes. "How can Satan throw himself out of people? 24 If a kingdom is divided with a civil war, the kingdom will soon cease to exist. 25 If a family is divided with one relative fighting another, the family will soon break up. 26 If Satan works against himself, his followers will also be divided. They will soon break up and power of Satan will be at an end. 27 No thief can break into the house of a strong man and steal unless he first ties up the strong man. Then the thief can steal. 28 So listen! Every sin and insult against God that people commit can be forgiven. 29 But whoever insults the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. That person is guilty of an eternal sin!" 30 Jesus said this because the scribes kept saying, "He is controlled by an evil spirit."

31 His mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside sent someone to call Jesus. 32 The people who sat around Jesus told him, "Your mother, brothers, and sisters are outside looking for you." 33 "Who are my mother and my brothers?" Jesus said. 34 Then he looked at the people who sat in a circle around him. "See? Here are my mother and my brothers. 35 Whoever does God's will is a member of my family!"

The story of Jesus scandal can be divided into three sections: the charge of possession, Jesus' answer, and the declaration of his true family.

Literal Translation

20 HE went home. [The] crowd assembled again, so that they were not able to eat bread. 21 The (ones) along with HIM having heard (this) went to seize HIM; for they were saying, "HE is beside HIMSELF." 22 The scribes having come down from Jerusalem kept saying, "HE has Beelzebul (in HIM) and HE expels demons by the ruler of demons."

21 "The (ones) along with HIM having heard (this) went to seize HIM" Who were "those along with HIM?" Obviously, they were not the followers of Jesus. Who would follow a man who caused shame? Instead, context argues for the family of Jesus.

Social unease with the misfit has two points of focus: 1) the actions of the person in question and 2) social shame results from the actions. So, two questions emerge. First, what did Jesus do to cause the scandal? Second, why did the family of Jesus feel such shame they wanted to take control of him?

The rise of Jesus' ministry answered the first question. As the introduction implied, Jesus stepped beyond social expectation in a way that opposed social norms. The carpenter became the minister. The nobody became a somebody. More important, his rise came at the cost of others' reputation and power (namely, the traditional religious leaders). Jesus challenged the status quo with his message and his power. He preached the Kingdom. His actions showed the Kingdom at work. His work superseded that of the religious elite.

The challenge to the state of affairs and the leaders most likely was the reason for the family's shame. The charge made by the leaders against Jesus was at the root of the shame: He was possessed! Such a charge made families cringe for demonic possession implied personal sin or the inheritance of sin from a family member. Either was a stain on the family's reputation. Either would have been reason for the family to take control of the person and force he or she into hiding.

(A side controversy has arisen from this passage in Mark. Why did Mary, the mother of Jesus, seek to control him? Wasn't she praised in the other gospels (especially Luke and John)? Didn't the "brothers and sisters" who sought to take him receive similar praise? Gentle reader, I have no direct answer, only speculation. And speculation lies outside the realm of this study. All I can do is report that Mark had a negative view of the family, while the other gospels and Acts had a far more positive view.)

23 Having called out to them in parables, HE said to them, "How can Satan expel Satan? 24 If a kingdom should be divided against itself, that kingdom is not able stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house is not able to stand. 26 If Satan takes a stand against himself, he is also divided and is not able to stand, but (he) has (his) finish (as an effective force). 27 However, having entered the house of a strong (man), no one is able to ransack his goods, unless he should first bind the strong (man) and then he can ransack his house. 28 Amen, I say to you, that all the sins of the sons of man will be forgiven, and (their) insults, as many as they might insult. 29 But whoever should insult the Holy Spirit, he does not have forgiveness into the (Messianic) age, but he is guilty of eternal sin." 30 (This was) because they kept saying, "HE has an unclean spirit."

3:23 "Having called out to them in parables..." In this instance, the word "parable" has a broader meaning of illustration or example than that of a short narrative story used for analogy.

3:25 " If a house is divided against itself..." In this example, the word "house" means clan or extended family, not dwelling. Clan infighting will doom its effectiveness as an economic, social, or political force in the community.

3:26 "If Satan takes a stand against himself..." Here, the term "Satan" referred to the "house of Satan" or the "kingdom of Satan." In other words, the individual represented the group, just as the patriarch represents the clan or the king represents his kingdom. Dissension within the ranks could weaken the group and even break out into civil war. In either case, the leader ceased to be effective.

Jesus answered the charge with a set of parables: the kingdom/clan and the thief. The first parable was, in a sense, redundant. In the time of Jesus, a kingdom was controlled by a royal clan, with the king as its patriarch. Opposition could challenge the kingdom, but infighting between members of the royal family could topple it. When Jesus compared Satan's legion to a kingdom/clan, he emphasized the danger of internal opposition. In other words, if Satan gave Jesus the power to exorcize the possessed, he worked against himself and, thus, encouraged other demons to revolt. Such weakness would lead to the end of Satan's reign and help usher in the Kingdom. Obviously, this was an absurd notion.

The thief image was more interesting. In this case, the house of the strong man was his dwelling, but it could also mean the wealth of his clan. The thief needed to tie up the strong man in order to plunder his treasure (and that of his family). But, who was the thief and who was the strong man? In other words, demonic possession was a "raid" by the devil into the "house" of God. But, wasn't exorcism a "raid" into the realm of Satan? At its heart, the parable of the thief was about power and who possessed it. Jesus used this parable to imply his power was greater than that of Satan and his followers.

That was a bold assertion. Only God had the power to enter the "house" of the Evil One and take control. If Jesus had this power, then, he came from God. To state Beelzebub was the source of Jesus insulted the true source of his power, the Holy Spirit. Such a statement implicitly rejected Jesus as the Messiah. It also rejected his mission: the forgiveness of sins. If one rejected Jesus and his mission, who could one ever expect to even seek God's forgiveness? (Parallel this statement with the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12.) But, with Jesus, one could receive forgiveness.

Who really had the unkosher spirit? Who was really driven by the power of the unclean, Jesus or the religious leaders? The flip side to this controversy answered the question. who brought forth the Kingdom? Which the group celebrated the Kingdom?

31 HIS mother and his brothers came and, standing outside, (they) sent (someone) to HIM, calling HIM. 32 A crowd was sitting around (HIM) and they said to HIM, "Look! Outside YOUR mother and YOUR brothers and YOUR sister seek you." 33 Having answered, HE said, "Who are MY mother and [MY] brothers?" 34 Having looked around at the (ones) sitting around HIM (in a) circle, HE said, "Look! My mother and my brothers. 35 Whoever should do the will of God, this (person) is MY brother and sister and mother."

The focus returned to the family and its attempt to take control of Jesus. In one move, Jesus replaced his clan with the clan of the Kingdom. Who was his family? Those who did the will of God, his Father. In other words, the Church became the clan of the Kingdom. Allegiance to the Father (and implicitly, to his Son) transcended family ties. The Kingdom superseded social structure. Hence, social expectations over behavior, even behavior that challenged the status quo of the leaders, was also superseded. Family ties, social roles, and religious pecking order were meaningless.

How does the will of God challenge your social expectations? How does the "odd person" present the face of God to you? Jesus was unusual, even to the point of causing scandal and shame to his family. But Jesus, his message, and his mission pointed to something greater than social norms and people's expectations. They revealed the Kingdom.

Our problem, of course, lies in our expectations. What do we expect others to do? What do we expect God to do? How do we react when God or others don't meet our expectations? More important, how do we react when God or others CHALLENGE our expectations?

That is a challenge.

Reflect on the times others challenged your expectations. Did you consider these people odd or misfits? How did you react? If you could change your reactions, what would you do differently? How would God want you to react to them?