Sunday, 10 June 2018

The Great Conspiracy Theory

10 June 2018 – Great Brickhill – Trinity 2

Gospel Mark 3

Jesus accused by his family and by teachers of the law

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’

30 He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an impure spirit.’

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting round him, and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’

33 ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle round him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’


Our journey—in the lectionary year B—takes us through the gospel of Mark. We have reached chapter 3, and in the beautiful weather of an English June we are suddenly confronted by a need to linger on the offence Jesus caused, and the reasons behind it.

The incident we are focusing on today has three competing groups of people:

1. The crowds who constantly swarm and press in on Jesus

2. His family, who are concerned about him

3. The Scribes—theological heavyweights come down from Jerusalem

At this stage—chapter 3—the crowds seem interested in what Jesus has to say and what he does. They want to hear and learn more. They express no worries and ask no questions—but are a constant presence that will in the end be manipulated by the Scribes among others and turned against him.

The second group is Jesus’s family. They have come to rescue him from the trouble and notoriety he has got himself in. His family think they are the ones who know him best. Their belief is that he is out of his depth, and that dangerous groups of people, such as the Scribes, and watching him and judging his impact on the crowds.

These people have the power to put an end to his teaching, or worse to put an end to his freedom and even his life. His family think he is “beside himself”—not in his right mind—the Greek is existemi [εξιστεμι]—the same word can also be translated as ‘insane.’

We the readers know he has been acting this way since his baptism by John the Baptist—his family members have therefore some to find him and take him away to a place of safety.

The last group is the Scribes. These are the experts in theology—come down from Jerusalem to investigate and make a judgement on what Jesus is doing. They recognise that a power is at work in him—but do not consider that God is performing a revival through him—instead they decide Jesus is an agent of evil—a servant of Satan.

In one sense, it was good that the Scribes took Jesus’s power seriously—and did not put his works down to magic, illusion or pronouncing him a charlatan. On the other hand, branding him a Satanic agent was deeply damaging.

Unlike the magicians in Egypt, who could replicate the ‘signs’ that Moses and Aaron performed—the Scribes could not match Jesus’s miracles, and so had to fall back on ascribing his power to a malevolent force.

Jesus in return accuses the Scribes on being blind to the possibility of truth—they blaspheme against the Holy Spirit—searching for every possible source of power except that of God’s renewal and forgiveness—healing, casting out demonic possession, freedom from guilt and sin, both to individuals and the people as a nation. Their minds are closed—they do not recognise the transformative power of God’s grace at work.

The response from Jesus is short and to the point. He does not address the accusation at length, but does point out the logical absurdity of saying that he is using Satanic power to act on itself. The powers of evil show no signs of loosing the bonds of oppression—the reign of Satan is dominant and ruthlessly unyielding. In reality, are the Scribes in thrall to the evil one themselves?

Jesus’s little parable is short and to the point. He likens himself to a burglar, who breaks into a house owned by a strong man who represents Satan. The possessions the strong man has plundered can only be taken from him by tying him up and neutralizing his power.

This rest of the gospel harks back to this little illustration. God in Jesus comes to displace the reign of Satan—to tie down and neutralize the kingdom of evil—a power that is not given up easily, but only by the transformative love of Jesus, so aptly illustrated by Episcopalian bishop Michael Curry at the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle.

Jesus then turns back to the other protagonists—his family. He renounces their claim on him—family ties and love are not sufficient to divert him from his clear mission in the world.

So in this passage we have the start of the conspiracy against Jesus by various groups who eventually join together in a plot which leads to the cross. As we continue to read through Mark in year B of the lectionary, we can see how these attacks develop—how the conspiracies play out.

Jesus promises good news—but this is very different from comfortable news as his family found out. The reign or Kingdom of God that Jesus keeps talking about is not going to have a smooth ride—it is far from ‘business as usual.’ Amen

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