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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before June 7, 2015


Mark 3:20-35

20And the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

What I Am Learning:

First century Mediterranean people believed that “like begets like.” If you were born to a priestly family, then you had the status of a priest. If you were born to a carpenter family, then you had the lowly status of a carpenter. You protected your honor by living out the expectations of your status.

So you could be a lowly carpenter and still be an honorable family. You could have high status and be dishonorable by not behaving as you were expected.

Jesus was a lowly carpenter’s son. A carpenter was basically a village tinkerer. Carpenters fixed things that broke like oil presses, tools and the like.

He was expected to stay quiet and to stay in Nazareth. When someone from a higher status than him came by. He would be expected to keep his eyes lowered and not speak until spoken to. Typically he would not be spoken to.

So when he began to preach publically, it was quite a shocker. It was even more shocking that people listened, that they gathered around his message. Yet more shocking was that people experienced healing and restoration through his ministry.

There were two groups of people most endangered by his ministry. The first was his family. In that time anything you did reflected directly on your family. Your honorable behavior confirmed your family’s honor. Your unexpected behavior could irreparably damage your family’s reputation. Such damage could mean that your family could not find marriage partners for children, could reduce your trading partners for things your family needed to survive. In other words, your reputation was directly linked to your survival, or at least the flourishing of your family.

Deviant behavior was a threat to your family’s survival.

Jesus was threatening his family’s survival by acting in a way that was not expected of him.

This is why his family came to restrain him.

The second group of people endangered by Jesus deviant behavior were the religious authorities in Jerusalem. In our time we tend to think of religion and politics and economics as totally different things. First century people would not have thought that possible. When Jesus begins to announce the “kingdom of God” in his stump speech, he is making a claim that the kingdom of the Romans was in opposition to God and was to be replaced. The religious authorities in Jerusalem (chief priests, scribes and Sadducees) were under intense pressure by the Roman officials to keep the religious freelancers quiet.


Primarily because the Jewish faith began as an escape from slavery, orchestrated by God, from Egypt and then again from Babylon. This escape from slavery was celebrated by their biggest festival— the Passover. Many of the People of Israel expected and hoped that God would send an anointed one free them from Roman occupation.  The Roman government expected the religious authorities in Jerusalem to keep this revolutionary impulse under control.  When they didn’t, heads would roll. Literally.

Jesus deviant behavior was threatening the survival of the religious authorities in Jerusalem.

This is why they publically claimed that Jesus was acting in the power of Baal – that is an evil spirit.

To his family Jesus proposed something totally radical: a new family to which everyone responsive to God’s way of mutuality was invited. In this he proposes a whole new social order, breaking down the interlocking set of expectations that kept people from living out love in everyday practical ways and kept them submissive to the Romans. His own family would be welcome when they are re-oriented to God’s inbreaking and emerging way to live.

To the authorities Jesus countered that if they cannot discern the movement of the Spirit of God, then they were already out of touch with God’s movement in the world. He did this using the same strength of language as they used – typical for a public debate of that time. I encourage you not to spend much time wondering if you have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. Chances are if you are concerned about it you haven’t.

People were so fed up with the rampant injustice of the day that many followed Jesus. They saw something taking place, that gave them the hope of bread, meaning and community that they wanted to be a part of Jesus’ family, even if it meant dishonoring their own.

Two questions for us:

1) When we do allow social conventions and respectability to limit the way we live out love?

2) In what ways are we inhabited by the spirit of our times that we fail to see the Spirit at work in the world, and even call it “of the devil.”

I think it true that I allow social expectations to limit the ways I express love (working for the wellbeing of others and myself).

I think it true that the spirit of the bullying culture, the domination and submission system is a part of me.

And yet I also feel the Spirit drawing me into and toward the family of Jesus. I feel the Spirit tugging me, often gently, into a place of freedom in which love for others can have expression – even when it is deemed deviant.

How do these questions apply to you?

How is the Spirit beckoning you to the freedom of Jesus’ family?