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Readings: 1st Sunday after Trinity

29 May 2015


Genesis 3.8-15; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1; Mark 3.20-end


O God, the strength of all those who put their trust in you, mercifully accept our prayersand, 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 our Lord. Amen.


WE ARE back in Ordinary Time, and anyone who is interested in the way this is counted, and how the Sunday readings are chosen through these 33 or 34 weeks (depending on the calendar), should try to acquire a copy of Thomas O'Loughlin's Making the Most of the Lectionary.*

It shows that lectionaries are lively and interesting, and its lucid explanation of the Year B readings defines three stages of exploration within the great question that shapes Mark's Gospel: Who is Jesus? This Sunday we continue through the second stage, enquiring more deeply into the mystery of the Messiah, who is introduced at the very beginning of Ordinary Time. Having shown Jesus in relation to the crowds, Mark turns to his interaction with his disciples.

The NRSV puzzlingly begins verse 20 in mid-sentence, though the Greek text of Mark 3.20-35 starts earlier and thus makes it clear that Jesus has gone home - presumably with at least some of the 12 he has just appointed as apostles (Mark 3.13-19). This is important for the reading of the whole episode. Crowds drawn by Jesus's teaching, healing, and casting out of evil spirits are hard on their heels; and it is impossible even to have a meal in peace.

At this point, the family of Jesus intervenes - an action that seems entirely understandable on the part of householders who have just been invaded by swarms of people determined to get near to their magnetic son and brother (Mark 3.20-21). While there is a bias in the narrative towards seeing their intention as the restraint of unstable behaviour, we must at least consider that most families would try to protect someone they loved from unwelcome attention and, if necessary, from his or her own charisma. The attempts of celebrities to ensure privacy and ward off the ceaseless intrusions of the media are a constant contemporary parallel.

This scene could have continued uninterrupted into the last four verses of the passage (Mark 3.31-35). So there must be a purpose behind the interpolation of another episode that - if this were film and not text - would mean a camera shift, from the family struggling through the multitudes to the scribes. How they had become part of the mob is not explained, though the authorities were probably watching Jesus closely for further healings on the sabbath (Mark 3.1-6), and other infringements of custom (e.g. Mark 2.15-17). Their role, in seizing on the insinuations of derangement, is to foreground the demonic realm, and to associate Jesus with it (Mark 3.22).

This is ill-judged. Mark repeatedly shows that Jesus has authority over demons (Mark 1.2-34,  5.1-13, 9.14-29)**, and he easily demonstrates the logical flaws in the scribes' accusations ( 3.23-27). The encounter closes without saying whether they understood in Jesus's warnings to them that he was declaring his own unity with the Holy Spirit (Mark 3.28-30). It is most likely that they belonged among those hearers of parables who "look without perceiving and listen without comprehension" (Mark 4.12).

The family moves back to centre stage, now struggling to get into their own house to summon Jesus (Mark 3.31). His apparently callous rejection of them in favour of the new family gathered round him has the same superficial abrasiveness as his words to Mary at Cana (John 2.4). Without any clues to tone of voice or facial expression, the best hope of making sense of this is to look at the larger purpose at work here. Jesus is establishing something larger than the domestic unit. As the Messiah, his mission is to call God's people back, just as God has always called them. The search for the disobedient Adam and Eve in the garden (Genesis 3.8-15) is the beginning of a relationship that, throughout history and despite repeated backsliding and disappointment, God refuses to abandon. It is a relationship that - however unpromising it may be on the human side - is meant to end in glory. In putting aside the earthly claims and concerns of his own family, Jesus is offering himself to an infinitely larger family, drawn to him at first as a worker of miracles, and schooled by him for the Kingdom "eternal in the heavens" (Mark 3.35; 2 Corinthians 5.1).



* Thomas O'Loughlin, Making the Most of the Lectionary: A user's guide (SPCK, 2012)

** See Brendan Byrne, A Costly Freedom: A theological reading of Mark's Gospel (Liturgical Press, 2008)


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