This is the sermon the Rev. Karen Calafat preached on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 6, 2021.
Proper 5B – Mk. 3:20-35
June 6, 2021
The Rev. Karen A. Calafat
I had a spiritual awakening in my mid-20’s which left me completely filled with joy and excitement about this new-found grace of God I had experienced, this new-found love of Christ. It was all I could think about, all I wanted to talk about. I discovered an entirely new genre of music -- Christian pop – and I wanted everyone to listen to it. My family was convinced I had lost my mind, gone off the deep end, become a bonafide holy roller, a Jesus freak. I really just wanted everyone to experience the grace and love that I had discovered, but I was too over-the-top for my family and friends’ comfort level.
That is my personal point of connection with the confusion and misunderstandings that are part of Jesus’ story in Mark’s gospel.
It might be helpful for us to get a running start on this one, remembering that on the 2nd Sunday of Advent we heard the beginning of the “good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God” and John the Baptist appearing in the wilderness proclaiming baptism for the forgiveness of sins and the coming of the one who would baptize in the Holy Spirit. Through the season of Epiphany we heard from the Gospel of Mark each Sunday, including Jesus calling the 12 disciples and performing healing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Mark, the emphasis is on Jesus as prophet, teacher and healer – the human Jesus whose work can be seen. The lens through which we might approach today’s lesson is verse 15 of chapter 1: Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Now, to be honest, I wrestled with this reading all week in order to find the “good news.” The Rev. Susan Butterworth’s words helped me. She writes, “In today’s passage, we have it all. Human Jesus misunderstood and at times impatient, and divine Jesus, actor in the eternal drama of good versus evil, conqueror of Satan.
By the time this passage begins, chapter three of Mark has established Jesus as prophet, teacher, and healer. He has cast out unclean spirits and appointed twelve apostles to aid him in his work.
Ironically, in Mark 3:11, the unclean spirits recognize Jesus as the Son of God, while in today’s passage, the crowd, the family, and the scribes just do not get him at all. “He has Beelzebul, (which is literally “lord of the flies; lord of death and decay”) and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” They see Jesus as out of his mind, possibly even possessed by evil spirits. As he has done so many times in his earthly life, Jesus is called to respond to the confusion of friend and foe alike. He teaches, in a parable about Satan, and calls the scribes and his family to account.
The structure of the passage is interesting, important, and enlightening. We have a story within a story: the controversy with the scribes about exorcism and the parable of defeating Satan inserted into an episode about Jesus’ family. The structure is called chiastic, meaning that ideas are introduced in order, then developed in reverse order. In this case: Crowd, family, and scribes are introduced in that order. The parable of Satan is the story at the center. Then, in reverse order, scribes, family, and crowd are addressed.
The structure is important and enlightening for the way it focuses on the central idea at the heart of the pattern – the conflict with Satan, the cosmic battle of good and evil. First, the crowd gathers, followers of Jesus and witnesses to his deeds and teaching. Then family and scribes put forth the misguided, mistaken accusation that his power to exorcise demons comes from Beelzebul. We can almost hear Jesus’ frustration in his words: How can Satan cast out Satan? Carefully, he explains, if Satan is divided, he cannot survive. In casting out unclean spirits, Jesus defeats Satan bit by bit, undermining his power.
But Jesus draws the line at confusing Satan with the Holy Spirit. Being misguided, blind, mistaken can be forgiven. The people may be slow to comprehend that Jesus, the man who heals, is in fact the Son of God. Make no mistake, however – Jesus’ healing power comes from the Holy Spirit. To call the Holy Spirit an unclean spirit is a blasphemy too far. Jesus is called upon to speak with authority yet again.
So, in the reverse order of the chiastic structure, Jesus reprimands the scribes, then his family re-enters the scene, and the passage resolves with Jesus addressing the crowd.
Does Jesus reject his family, his mother and his brothers and sisters, when he asks rhetorically, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Rather, when Jesus looks at the crowd and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” perhaps he is connecting his earthly self with his divine self. He has a human family, and he has a spiritual family. And that spiritual family includes us, part of the crowd, followers of Jesus and witnesses to his gospel.
Today’s complex and rich passage from Mark’s gospel reveals the tension between the human and divine aspects of Jesus. He has a family that doesn’t understand him, that doesn’t see him clearly, or fully. A family, friends, a religious establishment, that do not see that he goes beyond humanity, and is the eternal Son of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, healer of bodies, healer of souls, destroyer of Satan, the Messiah who overcomes death to usher in the kingdom of God.
The power of the Holy Spirit is a strong message. It is a Pentecost message. We are in the season which celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s people, the moment when the Spirit empowers God’s people to be witnesses and spread the Good News. Jesus’ ministry is outward-looking, expansive, as Christ welcomes all.” Therein lies the Good News. The Holy Spirit helps and empowers us in our own struggle against sin and brokenness. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be receivers and bearers of the grace of God and the love of Christ. So share that love and grace, even if people think you are out of you mind. Go ahead, be a little crazy for Christ’s sake!
Susan Butterworth, M.A., M.Div, is a writer, teacher, singer, and lay minister. She leads Song & Stillness: Taizé @ MIT, a weekly ecumenical service of contemplative Taizé prayer at the interfaith chapel at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She teaches writing and literature to college undergraduates and writes book reviews, essays, and literary reference articles.