In today’s gospel lesson we have a story within a story. Not too unusual – we’ve seen it before. But these are interesting to try and piece together – are they even meant to be pieced together? Hmmmm.
One story has Jesus back “home” – we don’t know if it is his actual house, or Simon’s, we know he’s in Capernaum but the text in the verse before this passage simply says “home.” And his family is in a tizzy – they are there to restrain him.
Then we have the story of the Scribes who have traveled there to discredit Jesus and his ministry so far. You see, this is our first Sunday in Mark in a while – we’ll be here until late July. We’re only in chapter 3, but already Jesus has made enemies. The Pharisees and Herodians are already out to get him, and here we have the scribes weighing in against him. Usually these groups are at odds with one another, but Jesus has definitely united them against himself. The enemy of my enemy and all of that… in only 3 chapters!
So here’s Jesus and the disciples trying to eat – and they cannot even do that without first the family and then the scribes, with the crowd milling about – sounds like chaos, doesn’t it? We’re Episcopalians – we like order and decorum. That’s part of what makes Mark so challenging – it’s all so sudden and dramatic – a bit over the top for us. It’s kind of the reality TV version of the Gospels – lotsa drama!
So we have two stories – two groups out to get Jesus – one sees him as crazy, the other sees him as demon-possessed. Maybe these two stories are not as far apart as we originally thought.
Jesus deals with the Scribes first – the ones who state he is serving demons – and he answers their argument in such a way that they don’t answer back. He puts them smartly in their place and shuts them down. And he talks about the Unforgiveable Sin.
The Unforgiveable Sin strikes some fear in our hearts doesn’t it? We like our confession that is all-inclusive and that we will say in a few minutes – we confess that we have sinned in thought, word and deed, by things done and undone, known and unknown – very comprehensive – what could we be leaving out that is unforgiveable? Jesus says that blasphemy can be forgiven, then turns around and implies that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgiveable. He actually says it in three Gospels: her, Matthew and Luke. It must be really important then. How could we blaspheme against the Holy Spirit?
The Scribes are calling what is good evil – is that it? Not seeing the good in Jesus’ ministry – not recognizing God’s work in the world around us? That may be close but not quite there. You see the Scribes take it that next step by calling it evil. That means they are so entrenched in their viewpoint that they cannot recognize the goodness of healing and teaching. The Scribes have no love for Jesus – and there is the rub. They are beyond redemption because they cannot recognize the salvation he offers. They feel no love or need for forgiveness. They cannot receive forgiveness because they will never ask for it. Clear as mud right?
I think this whole concept is well illustrated in the Robin William’s movie: What Dreams May Come. I love that movie. It’s pretty old now. It is a beautiful illustration of Heaven and the after-life. In the story, he and his wife survive the deaths of their two children. His wife sinks into a deep depression, but with his love and medical treatment, she emerges. She is an artist who paints breath-taking scenes. Then he dies in a tragic accident. He goes to heaven and explores there. He is reunited with his children – it is stunningly beautiful. But his wife has no one to save her from herself and she commits suicide. She does not end up where he does. She is lost in the darkness and ugliness of the Unforgiven.
Let me be very clear here. The suicide is not the unforgiveable part – I’m sure you’ve heard that before – very old Catholic teaching. We do not believe that. We believe that even after death, a person can ask for forgiveness and receive it, so suicide is not unforgiveable. It’s the ‘not asking’ that is unforgivable. God cannot forgive what is not confessed. Remember Paul? Neither life, nor death,, nor principalities, nor powers – nothing can separate us from the love of God. We believe that our loved ones go on with God after death – therefore we continue to pray for them in their continuing relationship to God.
In the movie, his love saves her again – he helps her to ask for help and to feel love again. It is a really good movie.
The unforgiveable sin is the one not confessed – the belief that it need not be forgiven, or cannot be forgiven – the belief that God will not or cannot forgive. In CS Lewis, it is the ones who move further and further away from the bus stop and become more and more isolated.
That brings us around to the second story happening here. Jesus expands our idea of family. Sometimes we are far away from family – Jesus shows us here how to find a healthy family – we don’t have to be lonely and alone, even if we’re far away. Sometimes our families are toxic – Jesus gives us permission here to make a new one based around him.
A family truly based around the will of God will help us to never commit the Unforgiveable Sin. They will help us to see what it is that we need to confess and receive forgiveness for. They will help us to see the Christ in each other, and ourselves so that we can be family to others. True families speak hard truth to each other when they seek God’s will.
As we gather here for a peaceful orderly meal, let us give thanks for this family gathered. Amen.