This Sunday's readings: 1st Sunday after Trinity
Posted: 07 Jun 2012 @ 00:00
2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1
O God, the strength of all those who put their trust in you, mercifully accept our prayers and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without you, grant us the help of your grace, that in the keeping of your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
THIS is the first time that Mark has mentioned Jesus’s family. When reading this Gospel, we have to forget what we know from the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke because, for Mark, Jesus is a charismatic young man who appeared on the scene in a whirlwind of activity, with no background information except that he came from Nazareth and lived in Capernaum.
Mark’s readers had some additional information: that Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit, and was then driven into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. People in Mark’s story who met Jesus, however, did not know of this earlier conflict, or the source of his power, which was displayed so frequently in the early part of the Gospel. So, confronted with a miracle worker, they were confused, and asked questions — as, later, did people who knew his family background (Mark 6.1-3).
The pace of Mark’s story is breathtaking. Jesus drew crowds wherever he went: this is the ninth time in three chapters that Mark has reported enormous crowds around Jesus, or that he had no privacy, or was too busy to eat. He performed miracles, including exorcisms, and people flocked to be healed. Local life was turned upside down as news spread.
The religious leaders should have recognised when God was at work, but they accused Jesus of blasphemy (Mark 2.7). In response, Jesus, grieved by their hardness of heart, challenged them to weigh the evidence of his power to do good. Now, faced with more miracles, they went too far, and ascribed the Holy Spirit’s empowerment of Jesus to Satan. It was that intentional denial of the holiness of God’s Spirit, confusing good and evil, which Jesus described as unforgivable, and put him on the offensive.
This is the last of the dramatic, confrontational events that open Mark’s Gospel. Already, Mark has shown us people divided in their responses to Jesus: while the crowds were thrilled by miracles, the Scribes misread him terribly, and thereby condemned themselves; and Mary did not understand. Indeed, Mark frames the Scribes’ confrontation with Jesus with the story of Mary, drawing attention to their contrasting responses.
This frenetic pace of life was unsustainable, and took its toll on Jesus; so people questioned his mental state. Whereas the Scribes placed themselves outside God’s family, Mary tried to close the natural family around Jesus for his protection. We can picture this strong Jewish mother, bringing her other children with her for support, arriving on the scene to tell her eldest son off. Any mother of a young man who appears to be going off the family rails will understand. This miracle-worker had a family history, was human, and his mother was concerned.
But she could not get into the house, and so resorted to sending a message. Jesus was not to be distracted, and his brusque response was the passion of a young man caught up in the intensity of his mission. His answer was not to reject his family as his nearest kin, but to expand his family circle, drastically, to include anyone who did the will of God and wanted to follow him. This was not easy for Mary.
In pairing this story of Mary seeking out Jesus with the poignant episode in the creation myth from Genesis, the lectionary draws our attention to the pain of rejected love. Mary searched out her son with his well-being at heart; God searched for the man to whom he had given life with his well-being at heart. We read that God missed the close fellowship for which Adam was created, and which brought joy to God as well as to Adam.
Mary sought Jesus because she wanted to protect him from his popularity; but his impulse, like that of God with Adam, was and is to seek human company, and to include more people than might be on our invitation list for family events. If we find that disconcerting, so did the religious leaders of Jesus’s day. From the other perspective, some people find it hard to believe that they are welcomed, and, like Adam, may hide for shame. God’s presence among us today may be equally disturbing to our way of life before it can be liberating.