Tonight we re-tell a story from the gospel of Mark in which Jesus’ family think he’s crazy; the religious experts accuse him of being demon possessed; and Jesus talks in riddles, then questions family ties. The original text is dense, and easily obscured by our deeply held social values and longing for judgement. Therefore, I’ve expanded, adding commentary, in the hope that this re-telling sheds some light on the passage and leaves you with good questions to ponder. The simple refrain is included to give you an opportunity to sing gently and reflect on what the preceding paragraph reveals.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
>> Sing: Behold the Lamb of God // behold the Lamb of God // He takes away the sin, // the sin of the world.
Oh, oh, oh, who does he think he is? The shame that boy brings on our house! The scandal! Why can’t he be like his brothers and sisters, hmmm? Why can’t he stay home and marry that nice girl next door and give me grandchildren? Instead, he’s out stirring up trouble, a hornet’s nest, preaching revolution! Son! Come home! You must be crazy, to bring so much shame on us! I can barely hold up my head with your goings-on! Come back to your family! Honour your father and mother! You know it’s God’s law. Come home, my son! Come home!
We’re the experts; we know what salvation looks like: Follow the law. Honour your father and mother. Do not disgrace them. We’re the experts: listen to us! This man clearly knows nothing of salvation. He’s not holy; he doesn’t respect family ties; he’s certainly not one of us! He may be throwing out demons, but it’s with the power of the demon king. Bad spirit, you hear that? Bad spirit. He’s possessed, a dangerous man. But don’t worry. We’re monitoring the situation closely. You won’t be in danger. We’ll make sure of that.
Excellent! Here we go again … the family is accusing their wayward son, the prodigal, who eats with sinners and traitors and peasants and foreigners and swineherds. They think he’s crazy; they want to take him home so he doesn’t disgrace them; they’ll shut him away forever.
And here we go again … the religious experts are accusing the wayward son of Israel, the lost sheep, the one who wanders stony paths. They think he’s possessed; they want to take him away so he doesn’t disgrace them; they’ll silence him forever.
Family, priests, and lawyers; culture and tradition; military powers; the economic system: we’re all against him. We’ll hound him and accuse him and try to silence him. If he keeps this up, soon enough we’ll band together and make sure he is killed. This is how it always happens. This is how we work: Identify the threat. Accuse. Persecute. Kill. This is scapegoating: and this is how we unify and purify our world.
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
>> Sing: Behold the Lamb of God …
Here’s a riddle for you: How can the Accuser cast out the Accuser? A kingdom involved in a civil war will collapse. If the Accuser rebels against himself and is divided, then he can’t endure. He’s done for. No one gets into the house of a strong person and steals anything without first tying up the strong person. Only then can the house be burgled.
But here I am, sitting in the house. Look at the crowds: I am good news. I release people from the suffocating prison of family, religion and society; I open people’s eyes to God’s culture; I let the oppressed go free.
So, who is the strong person? And who is stronger? And what is being stolen—and from whom?
>> Sing: Behold the Lamb of God …
Don’t listen to him! He’s possessed! We have an economy of payback: Who is he to offer forgiveness left, right and centre? We are the religious authorities: Who is he to heal people, and throw out demons? We are trained in the faith: Who is he to interpret the Scriptures and change how people see? And who is he to say that we are free? We are not free. Anyone can see that. We are bound by family, culture and society; we are weighed down by empire. We are not free, and to say otherwise is a lie. Clearly he’s a dangerous madman, under the influence of an evil spirit!
I promise you, you will be forgiven for everything, for all sins and insults of every kind. But the Holy Spirit grants forgiveness, offers freedom, brings healing, ignites love. If you reject it, how will you experience forgiveness? If you deny it, how can you be free? If you say it’s evil, how will you know healing and love?
You encounter the Spirit’s work, but your encounter is coloured by your rejection. You don’t see it; you won’t know it; and you shrivel up from the inside. You will be forgiven for everything, for all sins and insults of every kind: but to experience this forgiveness, you must accept it.
>> Sing: Behold the Lamb of God …
Enough! Enough! Son, it’s time to be quiet. Be quiet, and come home.
Mum, I can’t. I just can’t. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news. I can’t be silent. I can’t come home.
But come and join me! Join me in my father’s house, where there is love, life, and freedom for all: not just for our family, not just for people like us, but also for the people we call outsiders.
My father’s house has lots of room: there’s a place for everyone. It’s not just for the rich and powerful. People who are poor and hungry, people who are grieving, people who are hated and humiliated, all have a place here. And all of them are blessed and beloved by my father.
Can’t you see it? Don’t you get it? Come on, mum. Come and join me. Come and join all the people who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. They are my brothers and sisters and mothers.
My family is not about blood ties. It’s not about ties of class or religion or culture. It’s about who does God’s will. And my family is big, really big. It’s full of surprising people, interesting people, people who love all sorts of other people, and also love God. This family keeps on changing and growing, and you never know who’ll be at the dinner table! So be a part of it! Join with us! Join with me! Come.
>> Sing: Behold the Lamb of God … Ω
We followed the re-telling with the questions, asked softly: Who is strong? Who is stronger? What is being stolen, and from whom? Who is my family? Then silence, gentle conversation, and more silence. We then sang “Who is my mother?” by Shirley Erena Murray (In Every Corner Sing. Carol Stream, Il: Hope Publishing, 1992) and moved into communion.
If you use this meditation in a service, think carefully about where your readers are positioned. Mark places Jesus inside a house in the middle of the crowd: and so for maximum effect you will want to position your Jesus reader sitting in the middle of the congregation; this is easiest if you worship in the round. We had all the children sitting at his feet. Mary, the religious experts, and the Accuser/Satan are outside the house, so you would position them behind the congregation, or outside the circle. This positioning will affect how people experience the story.
You may also want a simple symbol for each reader. When we did this, Mary clutched a baby blanket, the religious expert waved a big black Bible, and the Accuser pointed the finger at everyone. Jesus sat with the communion bread on a plate in his lap.
This re-telling of Mark 3:20-35 was written for Sanctuary, 10 June 2018 (BP05) © Alison Sampson, 2018. You can find the music for “Behold the Lamb of God” in Enemy of Apathy (Wild Goose Publications, Glasgow, 1988), or Together in Song II (East Melbourne: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1999). Artwork by Rowan Cant found at MARK: Illustrated Gospel Project. Creative Commons by NCND (3.0) (here).