First Sunday after Trinity Sunday 10.6.12 Mark 3.20-end

29 05 2012

Satan’s Slippery Slope

This passage starts off as a very  human kind of story – domestic even. But it is soon in the tricky territory of name-calling and then descends almost immediately into a very dark and conflicted place.  This is classic Mark.  Just a few words but a tension is built which is riveting – and profoundly relevant to us all.

Mark 3.20-end

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.’

31 Then 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.’

Reflections and Questions

‘he has gone out of his mind’ v21 This sounds innocuous. A throw away remark we might easily make about someone we find really difficult. But read in context we see this as the beginning of a slippery slope that leads to the unforgivable sin

Have you ever found yourself saying (or thinking) this of someone only to be embarrassed later when you realise that the person was speaking a deep but difficult truth?  Has anyone ever said this of you?

‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’ v23 It is a rhetorical question… but Jesus goes on to answer it.   It is interesting and important that Jesus names the enemy, ‘Satan’.  We know when we hear that word that we are in serious territory. There is a fight going on, but it is not the one that the Pharisees identify.

What do you make of the word, ‘Satan’?

‘whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness’ v29  This is a phrase that can  make people anxious. They worry  that they might commit the unforgivable sin by mistake. Relax. You  cannot . This is the deliberate sin of alienating yourself from God’s spirit, God’s grace, God’s inspiration. The sin is unforgivable not because God does not offer mercy to all but because God allows us to decline his mercy, That is the only thing that makes us unforgivable.

How can you address the anxiety that some (many) people have that they are unforgivable, even by God?

‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ v35 Jesus defines his family as those who do his will. As we discover later in the gospel, Jesus’ task is not to do his own will but the will of his Abba – whom he wrestles with in Gethsemane. The family here, then, is the family of people who seek to discern and do God’s will.

Does that include you? Do you actively seek God’s will – not for the details of  life but for the really big things?

First Sunday of Lent 26.2.12. Mark 1. 9-15 Wilderness and Good News

16 02 2012


Today we have an amazingly dense passage full of action and spirituality and with a cast ranging from wild beasts to angels. We could spend the whole of Lent absorbing the truths of these seven verses alone.

Mark 1.9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

Reflections and Questions

‘the Spirit’ v10 and v12. People often say that Mark’s is a very materialistic gospel. But here the Spirit is prominent – and busy. And we see it in two modes: descending in peaceful affirmation and then roughly driving Jesus out.  We all know which mode we prefer to Spirit to be in for us.  We all love affirmation. But what is the more everyday experience? What can you say about being driven out?

‘Wilderness’ v 12. You can think back to the liberated but compass-less Israelites or forward to the Egyptian monastics, for some of whom 140 characters would be verbosity itself. Either way, the wilderness is a place where spirituality happens.  How might that challenge our views of spirituality today?  Where are the wilderness places close to home? And why does God meet is in such challenging places?

‘tempted by Satan’ v 13. Mark does not claim to know what happened between Jesus and Satan.  This gives the preacher a little more scope to use their imagination or inner experience to talk about temptation.  Is true temptation resistable by human beings?  How serious and honest are we when we talk about it? Does Satan announce his presence or come in disguise?  What disguise?

‘John was arrested’ v14   There really is no let-up here. We are only 14 verses into the gospel and such a lot has happened. And yet it is gospel, good news. Mark uses the very word. ‘John is in prison but come and hear good news.  Oh, and, by the way, it is time to repent and believe too.’ What does true repentance look like today?  And true belief?  Now – why is all this gospel?