Sunday of Week 10 of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Commentary on Genesis 3:9-15; 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1; Mark 3:20-35

In today’s Gospel, we see a good example of ‘inclusion’, where one story is contained inside another and both are complementary. The ‘outer’ story is about the contrast between people who are ‘inside’ and those who are ‘outside’. The ‘inner’ story is about what puts people ‘outside’ – their refusal to listen to Jesus. The passage tells of two very different reactions to Jesus, one negative and the other positive.

The Gospel opens by telling us that Jesus had gone “home” with his disciples. What does ‘home’ mean here? After all, we know that Jesus, after leaving Nazareth, did not have a home – he did not have his own place to lay his head. Nevertheless, he was in a house – a house, perhaps belonging to one of his disciples, in which he felt perfectly at home.

He would tell his disciples later that all who left home to follow him would have an abundance of homes in this life; the home of every Christian would be a place of welcome to other Christians and, in fact, to all strangers genuinely in need of shelter. Again, any place where Jesus and his disciples are gathered together is home. And we will see that illustrated further on in the story.

As soon as people knew that Jesus had arrived, they piled into the house with him – so many that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing and saying, they went to take him out of there, convinced he was quite out of his mind:

He has gone out of his mind.

Here we have the first negative element in the story. His own family and relatives reject what he is and what he is saying and doing. They can only see that he is making a laughing stock of the family with all this ‘guru’ business. He has apparently been driving out evil spirits that have been heard shrieking and making their victims behave in bizarre ways. Worse still, he is behaving in very unorthodox ways and his remarks are upsetting the religious leadership – that also could mean trouble for them.

Indeed the religious leadership was after him. They had come up to Galilee all the way from Jerusalem and were accusing Jesus of being under the power of the devil:

He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.

Self-contradictory charges
Jesus points out the obvious contradictions in their accusations. What sense does it make for Satan to be casting out his minions who were doing his work for him? A kingdom divided by civil war is going to fall:

…if Satan has risen up against himself [what a strange idea…] and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.

Jesus goes further. He says:

…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.

Jesus, of course, is the strong man who has broken into Satan’s house, tied him up, and released those who were being held there. This is the only reasonable explanation for what Jesus has been doing. That statement of the religious leadership (the scribes) makes no sense whatever. It is the interpretation of poisoned minds.

The only unforgivable sin
And Jesus goes on to say something which sometimes puzzles people:

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…

And Mark makes it clear in what context these words were said:

…for they [the scribes] had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

How are we to explain these strange words of Jesus? Does it mean that all sins can be forgiven except one? Why just one exception? And why the sin against the Holy Spirit? What is so sensitive about a sin against the Holy Spirit? What about a sin against the Father or the Son? Aren’t things like murder and rape much worse sins?

To answer the question we have to ask another: What is a sin against the Holy Spirit? It is through the Holy Spirit that God teaches us and guides us into a right way of living, which is to become more and more united with him. To sin against the Holy Spirit is to turn our backs on God by rejecting that teaching and guidance. This is precisely what is happening with the members of Jesus’ family and the scribes in today’s Gospel.

Instead of seeing the love, power and the action of God so clearly present in Jesus, they blindly assert that he is mad and possessed by an evil spirit. If they had opened themselves to the guidance of the Spirit, they would have been able to see what indeed many others were able to see – as when the crowds exclaimed on one occasion about Jesus:

…God has visited his people! (Luke 7:16)

Whenever we turn our backs and refuse to open ourselves to the gentle hand of God leading us towards him, by whatever means that may happen (and the Spirit can use all kinds of instruments – people, things and happenings), we are guilty of sinning against the Holy Spirit.

Closed hearts
Why cannot there be forgiveness for such a sin without our own repentance? For the simple reason that we have closed our hearts and put ourselves beyond God’s reach. God never forces his way into our hearts. Our Lord says:

I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you with me. (Rev 3:20)

But he will never force down the door. I have to open it from the inside.

And, if God is prevented from reaching us, how can he extend his forgiveness to us? That is why it can be an “eternal sin”; it will remain that way as long as we are closed to his entering. Other sins, however serious, can be forgiven, including murder and rape and genocide – as long as we repent and seek reconciliation. But as long as we refuse to repent, to change, to convert and change our ways, we have entered into sin against the Holy Spirit and have effectively tied God’s hands. God’s forgiveness is not a unilateral, judicial act; it always requires the turning back of the prodigal so that the Father can embrace us once more.

Outsiders and insiders
Now we come to the final part of our Gospel passage. We were told at the beginning that Jesus’ family wanted to take him in charge because they thought he was mad and an embarrassment to them. They came to the house where Jesus was with his disciples and a large crowd of people sitting around listening to him.

Jesus is told that his mother, brothers and sisters are outside looking for him. The key word in this sentence is “outside”:

…his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside…

Jesus responds by asking:

Who are my mother and my brothers?

Then, looking at all those sitting around him and listening to him, namely, those who are ‘inside’, with him, he says:

Here are my mother and my brothers!

And why are they called that? Because:

Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

Huge implications
There are huge implications from this apparently simple saying. Jesus is, in fact, inaugurating a new way for people to relate to each other; he is inaugurating a new family. In this family we are brothers and sisters to each other, not on the basis of blood, or culture, or race, or nationality, or any other conventional group, but solely on our acknowledging him as our Lord and Brother and God as our Father.

These are the people on the inside. Those who still cling to the more conventional divisions (and very divisive they often are) are on the outside. They are symbolised in the First Reading where we have our first parents refusing to listen to the word of God and eating the forbidden fruit. This results in their being expelled from the garden. They are now on the outside, and subject to all kinds of distress and suffering. They are left, by their own choice, on their own. Their nakedness, originally something totally natural, becomes a matter of shame and a symbol of the emptiness of their inner selves after turning away from God.

Similarly, Jesus’ family and the scribes are on the outside because they do not listen to Jesus’ call to treat all equally as brothers and sisters. Down the ages many who have tried to break down the barriers between people have been also called mad and sometimes even evil.

The most tragic of all perhaps are those, who, in the name of Jesus and claiming to belong to his family, foster murderous divisions between people who should be one in faith. Here there are surely some who are seriously guilty of the sin against the Holy Spirit.

What about us?
However, it is not for us to sit in judgement on others but to look at our own selves. Are we on the outside or the inside? To what extent do we listen to, accept and fully assimilate Jesus’ call to belong to his family? To what extent do we reach out beyond the divisions of race, colour, gender, religion, class, education… to embrace others as truly our brothers and sisters?

Like St Paul in today’s Second Reading we are indeed aware of our gradual decline as we grow older, and, like him, we can be weighed down by many troubles, but we are filled with hope. As long as we keep listening to Jesus’ word coming to us at all times, our:

…our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

With the faith and confidence of Paul, let us say with him:

…we know that, if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Let that house, where God speaks and we listen, be our only home.

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