Mark 3

This chapter contains one quote and one incident that have been puzzling people for probably as long as the gospels have been read.

Although I must admit that the meaning of verses 28-30 seem clearer to me this time through. Here they are:

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

The whole notion of unforgivable sin is a troubling one. It goes against one of the principal tenets of the faith as we have received it. What constitutes a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and why that is a more serious offense than blasphemy against the Father or Son, are intriguing questions. But my own sense here is that Jesus is saying it is eternally sinful to attribute the work of God to the devil.

This happens more than you might imagine, and churches are perhaps more guilty of this than other institutions because we are often eager to pronounce on what is godly. I’ve got two friends–lesbians in their 50s, who are raising two boys that they adopted from a Brazilian orphanage. Both of the kids have significant learning disabilities, and one of them has been working all of his young life to control his rage. But with my friends’ love and their other resources, one of the kids is flourishing and the other is making slow progress toward maturity. I think of them every time I read this verse, because in my position I’ve been told over and over again that same-sex relationships are diabolical. In this instance, that seems to me a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

And speaking of families, verses 31-35 tell the story of Jesus being sought by his mother, brothers and sisters who, according to an earlier verse (21) have been told by the locals that “He has gone out of his mind.” A footnote in The New Oxford Annotated Bible (New Revised Standard Version, for those of you keeping score at home) says perhaps Mary and his siblings were concerned for his safety as well as his sanity. Whatever the case, Jesus makes no effort to draw them close to him, and indeed says that within the family of God, his listeners are every bit as close to him as his biological family.

I guess all of this is clear enough in the text. But if you, like me, were raised Roman Catholic in a family with a real devotion to the Holy Family, and if you were taught to write JMJ (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) at the top of all of your papers in parochial school, the notion that families, by the nature of their bonds with one another, are not the essential building block of the Kingdom of God remains difficult to accept. (This is not to say that the family can’t be the place in which you hear the Word of God and see if lived most powerfully. It certainly was for me.) The idea that Jesus’ vocation (Vocation?) may have been a source of dissent within his family and a source of pain (even pre-Calvary) to his mother does not go down particularly easy either. (Especially if you grew up in an Irish household and would rather nibble off your own fingers than cause pain to your mother.)

And then there is this whole business about Mary being a Virgin and Jesus having brothers and sisters. The Biblical scholars that I read–and they are a pretty ecumenical lot–dismiss the argument that the words for brothers and sisters in this context coudl just as easily mean “cousins.” So what does one do with that information viz. the Nicene Creed.

I don’t have an answer for that. I do, however, find these verses, and they aren’t unique to Mark, give us a much better sense of the cost of discipleship. It convulsed the life of Jesus, and the lives of those who tried to follow him. And I find that both consoling and, I use the word advisedly, threatening. Consoling because in times of conflict, these verses remind me that conflict comes with the territory that Christ calls us to cross. Threatening because I realize that I assume some judgment attaches to all the times I’ve chosen tranquility over fidelity.

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