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Proper 5 | Ordinary Time 10, Cycle B

Mark 3:20-35

The dispute about exorcism and the charge that Jesus was possessed by Beelzebul in Mark 3:22-30 are particularly interesting because of the context into which these verses are placed in the Markan account. Instead of the exorcism that is included in the parallel accounts in Luke 11:14-23 and Matthew 12:22-32 and 9:32-34, we read in Mark 3:20-21 the statement peculiar to Mark that “those from him,” that is, Jesus’ own family or his own relatives – probably defined more fully in Mark 3:31-35 as Jesus’ mother and his brothers and perhaps his sisters — having heard about what he was doing, had gone out from Nazareth to bring him back to Nazareth, for they were saying that he had lost his senses by speaking openly about the time soon when the Lord God would be coming to rule over them instead of the oppressive Romans. In the Markan context of this account, therefore, Jesus is presented as facing conflict on two fronts, one with the scribes who had come down from Jerusalem and the other with his own mother and closest relatives.

An analysis of the Synoptic interrelationships that would see no more than a simple progression of development from Mark and “Q” material to Matthew and to Luke would probably lead to the conclusion that Jesus’ mother and siblings did not understand what Jesus was doing and tried to stop him. Later Synoptic traditions, with their greater interest in Jesus’ parents as God the Father and by the power of the Spirit of God the Virgin Mary as his mother, the conception and birth of Jesus as the divine Son of God, and their much higher Christology than the Christology in Mark, with correspondingly diminishing emphasis on Jesus’ humanity, suppressed the Markan tradition of misunderstanding on the part of Jesus’ mother and brothers, retaining only Mark 3:31-35 in their renditions and rejecting Mark 3:20-21 outright.

Such an analysis may be a fairly accurate representation of what had occurred, but it is also possible that behind Mark 3:20-21 lies something more than — or other than – an historical reminiscence by Peter or by someone else within the tradition. If community self-consciousness was an important factor in the shaping of the Markan account, it is possible that the complete controversy dialogue here includes not only the central portion (Mark 3:22-30), but the entire text of Mark 3:20-35 selected for our use next Sunday. If the complete controversy dialogue includes all of Mark 3:20-35, the Markan community may have been polemicizing not only against the scribes from Jerusalem, its principal antagonists in the Markan account, but also against those from Jesus’ background who did not understand what the Jesus of the Markan community was doing and as “his mother and brothers” were attempting to suppress him. According to Mark 3:20-35, neither “the scribes from Jerusalem” nor “those from Jesus’ own family background” were truly Jesus’ mother and Jesus’ brothers. Instead, whoever does the will of God (the Markan community gathered around Jesus as they perceived him) is Jesus’ brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:33-35).

In the Luke 11:15-22 parallel, it is merely some people from the multitude who said that it was in the name of Beelzebul, the most prominent of the demons, that Jesus was casting out demons. Mark assigned to these objectors the identity of the scribes from Jerusalem and Matthew the identity of the Pharisees. Those who would try to separate Jesus from the ones who were sitting around Jesus in a circle (the Markan community) are not recognized (Mark 3:33) as Jesus’ mother and brothers. Those who say that Jesus has an unclean spirit are said to be speaking against the Holy Spirit and do not have forgiveness ever. They are guilty of an eternal sin (Mark 3:29-30). The polemic of Mark 3:20-35 is probably directed, therefore, against both of these groups. The polemic is gentle and subtle against “those from Jesus” from Galilee, but it is intense and severe against the “scribes from Jerusalem.” The warning and condemnation included in Mark 3:28-29 are separated by enough space in the account from the mention of the scribes from Jerusalem in Mark 3:22 that most readers of Mark 3:20-35 are probably not aware of how the complete controversy dialogue of Mark 3:20-35 is constructed. For a carefully reasoned discussion of this issue, see Raymond E. Brown, Karl P. Donfried, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and John Reumann, Mary in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, and New York: Paulist, 1978), pages 51-59. Consequently, most readers apply the warning against exclusion from fellowship with Jesus and against anyone who would speak evil of the Holy Spirit to themselves and to each other rather than to 1st century Jewish or to contemporary Jewish groups.

Therefore, we in our expository proclamation based on this text should also apply the warning against exclusion from fellowship with Jesus and against anyone who would speak evil against the Holy Spirit of God to ourselves rather than to Jewish groups of the past or present, even though anti-Jewish polemic was probably intended by the writer of Mark 3:20-35 when the literary “sandwich” of placing Mark 3:22-30 between Mark 3:20-21 and Mark 3:31-35 was formed.

2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1

It is in this text that the confident proclamation of the gospel is seen most clearly in the texts selected for this day. Paul writes that he and his companions have the same spirit of faith as the Israelite psalmist (Psalm 116:10) who is said to have written, “I believed. Therefore, I have spoken.” Since Paul and his companions have believed that God has raised Jesus from the dead, they have also proclaimed that God will raise them after they have died and that God will present them, along with their fellow-believers in Corinth, by the grace of God into a setting that, even though they cannot see it now, is eternal. Certainly that was Paul’s proclamation in this text and certainly it should be our proclamation this coming Sunday. In the words of the Mark 3:20-35 text, it is the acceptance of this proclamation that makes us “Jesus’ mother and Jesus’ brothers.” It is the acceptance of this proclamation that ties the Christian Church and people together within the “Body of Christ” throughout time and space.

Genesis 3:8-15

In traditional Christian identification of Messianic prophecies within the Hebrew Scriptures (the Older Testament), Genesis 3:15 is said to contain the first glimmer of the Christian gospel in its words regarding the “seed” of the first woman (Eve) bruising the head of the serpent. There can be little doubt that this verse was perceived to be “gospel” by the ancient Israelites, although their perception in the context of their experiences in a climate in which poisonous snakes were a common hazard did not extend beyond the realization that very alert people might be able to bruise or crush the head of a snake and that a snake can and did in many instances strike the heel of a person. (The ancient Israelites obviously did not wear thick, heavy Texas cowboy boots and carry a rifle to protect them against rattlesnakes!) Beyond that, there was likely a prediction or claim in this poetic form that although initially the Canaanites with their snake symbols had been bruising the heels of the nomadic Israelites, eventually the encroaching Israelites would crush the head of the Canaanites and of their religious practices. We as Christians can obviously apply the “gospel” of this text to our time and to our particular situation, as in various Liberation theologies and wherever relevant.

Psalm 130

In deep agony caused by the psalmist’s own sin, the psalmist cries out to the Lord for forgiveness. While the psalmist waits for mercy from the Lord, the psalmist calls upon Israel to have this same hope in the Lord. This applies to us as well. We too cry out and wait. For us as Christians, we have, along with psalms such as this, the model of Jesus dying on the cross and the belief that, by dying, Jesus, now perceived as the Risen Christ and as the Son of God, was bearing our sins.

1 Samuel 8:4-11 (12-15) 16-20; 11:14-15

The leaders among the people asked Samuel to appoint for them a king, so that they would be like the other nations around them. Samuel took this to the Lord in prayer and was told by the Lord to do as the people wished, but to let them know what the king would take from them. Samuel responds reluctantly and Saul becomes the first king over the people of Israel.

Psalm 138

Unlike earthly kings, the Lord as king has provided the help that the psalmist needed. Therefore, the psalmist acclaims the Lord as God over all of the kings on the earth and praises the Lord God for the steadfast love and mercy of the Lord God, for the love and mercy that will endure forever. This contrasts sharply with the depiction of earthly kings in the 1 Samuel 8:4-11 (12-15) 16-20; 11:14-15 text above. Who do we want to be our “king” over us?

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen