St.Mary’s Anglican Church, Canon Claude Schroeder
I announced last Sunday that for the rest of this church calendar we are going to be reading through Mark’s Gospel in church on Sunday mornings. In his Gospel, St. Mark is concerned to present and defend Jesus’ universal call, to men and women everywhere, to follow Him. The question before us is this, “What does it mean to follow a crucified and risen Saviour, who is Jesus Christ?” We might also ask, “ls it worth it?”
In the story up to this point, Jesus has been baptized and declared to be the Son of God, and has started to demonstrate His Divine power and authority through His teaching, healing the sick, forgiving sin, and casting out demons. Jesus has also called His disciples, organized and authorized them to go out and do what they have seen Him doing.
But Jesus is also starting to ruffle some feathers, and some people are getting very, very worried. Some of his enemies are already conspiring as to how they might get rid of him. In other words, the plot is starting to thicken.
Today’s Gospel is really foundational for our reading and understanding of Mark’s Gospel as a whole because it explains why it was that Jesus managed to offend just about everybody, the nature of the conflict that Jesus was embroiled in, and also what on earth Jesus thought He was doing, what His life purpose and mission was. lf from time to time, we are not offended by some of the things Jesus says and does, it‘s probably because we aren’t paying attention. lf we as disciples of Jesus Christ, are to make His life’s purpose and mission our own, we had better be clear on what that purpose and mission is. Whatever you want to make ofJesus, one thing is for sure, He is not simply a mildly interesting historical figure. Either Jesus is who he said He was, or He is a dangerous madman.
Today we encounter three groups of people, each of whom responded to Jesus differently. The first group is the crowds. Wherever He went, Jesus always drew a crowd. The things that Jesus said and did that spoke about the reign and rule of God had a magnetic effect on people. It’s not hard to see why. The impact Jesus had on people was life changing. Mind you that‘s not saying very much. The world is filled with charismatic figures who fill stadiums. Although the crowd does not get to speak, their actions speak for themselves: whatever Jesus has, they want more of it. Life! Lay it on me Jesus!
There is difference, of course, between being one of the crowd, and one of the disciples. In our passage today, as was often the case, Jesus is wanting to get away from the crowds, and be with his disciples, and share a meal with them. Here we are. But all of a sudden this crowd shows up, like a swarm of bees around a honey pot, at the house where Jesus was staying. There goes plans for dinner!
Enter now, members of Jesus’ extended family, who alarmed at what they regard as bizarre behaviour on Jesus’ part. Every since He came back from that trip to get baptized by John in the river Jordan, he was been acting a little strange. Many of us will know what it is like to get to that point when somebody in your family who has been struggling with mental health issues requires immediate psychiatric care and even hospitalization. It’s called intervention. This is more common than you think, and it is deeply upsetting. But if I can struggle with my physical health, why can’t I have struggle with my mental or emotional health? Happily or hopefully, we are learning to de- stigmatize mental health issues.
ls this what is going on with Jesus? Is He not taking His medication? That’s what the family thought. They went out and tried to restrain him, literally wrestle Him to the ground.
In 2006, Richard Dawkins, the Oxford professor of biology wrote the best selling book, “The God Delusion.” It is quite possible that Jesus was deluded, and that we in turn are also deluded for believing the things we believe, and for doing the things that we do. You can name people in your family who think you live in a world of “make believe” for being a Christian.
Leaving aside the fact that we are all perhaps just a little bit crazy, might it not actually be the case that maybe we are the ones who are on the road to sanity, and everybody else who is mad?
St. Anthony the Great, the founder of the monastic movement in Egypt in the 4th Century wrote, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’”
It’ s not so much that Jesus’ family members misdiagnosed His mental health. Their error was theological, and, as is the case with all theological errors, it had dangerous implications. More on that in a minute.
What was true ofJesus’ family, was also true of the scribes who had come down from Jerusalem to investigate what was going on. But the scribes were the ones with the PhD’s in theology, who represented the authority and theological wisdom of the religious establishment.
What did they think about Jesus? They recognize a power at work in Jesus. He is not a charlatan or an illusionist. But they decide the power is perverse. Jesus is a satanic agent, and not a Divine One. Jesus is worse than mentally ill. He is positively dangerous. They offer the most damning assessment possible.
I think we all recognize that spiritually, the world is not a neutral place. Our experience of life in this world is marked by one of two things: the Presence of God, and the Presence of the Evil One. Jesus has taught us to pray, “Lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One.”
The way some people talk it is as if Good and Evil, God and Satan, are two equal and opposing powers who are locked in some kind of cosmic battle. This is not true. Unlike God, who is the fullness of Being, and the fullness of Life, the Evil One, Satan, as He is named in the Scriptures, is empty. Evil is nothing at all.
The relationship between Good and Evil, God and Satan is best understood in terms of the relationship that exists between a parasite and its host. Satan is a parasite, a blood sucker who feeds off, and sucks the life blood out of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, in order to destroy it.
So you remember, Count Dracula? What did Dracula want? “I want your Blood…” and he could never get enough.
What was the One thing that could come between Dracula and your carotid artery? It was the Cross: the sign of Son of God who poured out His life blood for you, and for the life of the world. If Dracula could never get enough, the Son of God can never give enough. Out of his heart of Love, Jesus keeps pouring out His life Blood for us and into us, preserving our souls and bodies unto eternal life.
The power of evil is the power of the lie. What is the lie? The lie is that it is possible for us to have life apart from God. “The serpent tricked me,” said Eve, “and I ate.”
The delusion that it is possible for us to have life apart from God, presents itself to us first as a thought in the mind. This is what we call temptation. When we enter into dialogue with that thought, give our consent, and act on it, the result is sin, the consequence of which is death. So what do you think happens when a person through continual thought, dialogue, consents, acts upon the lie? He will eventually start willing, desiring the lie. That is what we call demon possession.
A major part of Jesus’ ministry consisted of exorcisms, understood as the casting out the lie from the hearts and minds of men and women. It’s why in the service of Holy Baptism of adults in the Book of Common Prayer, the priest having prayed to the Lord to deliver this servant from the power of Satan, then prays, “Cast out of their hearts every evil imagination and everything which exalts itself against the knowledge of thee, and that they may have power and strength to have victory and triumph over the devil, the world, and the flesh.”
What is the source of this power and strength? In our Psalm today, 130, was the prayer of a dead man. “Out of the depths I cry out to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice.” Here I am in the grave. But who is the dead man in the prayer? The dead man here is Jesus, who has been raised to life, and lives to make this prayer before God, “With the Lord there is stedfast love, and with him is the great power to redeem. And he shall redeem Israel from all his sins.” The source of strength and power is in the name ofJesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen One.
So Jesus cannot allow the accusation of the scribes to go unchallenged. How can Satan cast out Satan? Why would evil fight against itself? This makes no sense. Doesn’t take a theology degree to know that. Even so, if as the scribes claim, Jesus does employ demonic powers, they should rejoice, “because a house divided against itself cannot stand.” The end reign and rule of evil is at hand.
But might there be an alternative explanation? ln the parable that follows, Jesus give us in image which enables us to see what is going on. Jesus describe His ministry in terms of a home invasion, where He, Jesus, has come to overwhelm Satan’s reign by first “tying up the strong man” and before plundering the house of his goods. This is about as close to a mission statement as we are to get in Mark’s Gospel. Unlike Satan, who invades our homes, our marriages, and our families, and our souls in order to tie us up and oppress us, through guilt, through shame, and the fear of death, Jesus invades our homes to untie us and set us free through His love, His forgiveness, and the power of His Resurrection.
All around them people are being set free from their demons, experiencing wholeness and new life, and yet all the scribes can do is denounce it all as false and dangerous? This is an extraordinary blasphemy for which there can be no forgiveness, only because it reveals a mind that has totally closed off from the transformative possibilities of God’s grace.
Having exposed the theological error of the scribes, Jesus now addresses the theological error of his family. In Jesus’ day, family exerted a power over your life that is difficult for us today to grasp. In that culture, responsibility, identity, stability and opportunity were intimately bound up with kinship structures. You did not easily walk away from family, and if the family disowned you, you were in real trouble.
Whom did Jesus regard as family?
“Here”, said Jesus, “are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus’ family is an expansive one. Those who pray, Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, are family to me.
I don’t what your experience of family has been. You may belong to a close knit family, or you may be part of a family where nobody talks to each other. What is it that made your family tick? Are you aware of how much your attitudes and judgments have been shaped by your family of origin?
Here’s the thing. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you are part of a new family. This by necessity means shedding some of the prejudices and attitudes that were part of your upbringing. What do you think it is that makes this family tick?
Is it not the testimony we have in our hearts concerning Jesus, His promise, His love, His forgiveness, His Holy Spirit, and our commitment to follow Him in doing the will of God?
A prayer of St. Richard, Bishop of Chichester, in the 13th century:
Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ. For all the benefits Thou hast given me, For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me. 0 most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother, May l know Thee more clearly, Love thee more dearly, Follow thee more nearly. Amen.