Then (Jesus) went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
This past week, I saw for the first time a car commercial for the new Nissan Rogue. And like most car commercials these days, it was highlighting the new features of the car. Primarily, the new advanced safety features of the car, that notify you whenever there is something behind you or beside you or in front of you that you might pose a threat to you or your vehicle.
But what was most startling about the commercial was not that we could have this kind of technology in our cars, but rather the way they highlighted those features.
So, the ad begins with a couple climbing into their car, and they turn lovingly to glance at their child strapped into the back seat. But then, the slow ominous music starts playing. The car begins to back up and then a little alarm goes off alerting the driver that there is a tree right behind them. But then child glances back to see this snarling tree come to life and reaches out to grab the car but the car speeds away. And then they are on the highway, and it is dark and stormy (of course), and another car begins to pass them. Another warning alarm goes off to alert the driver. But then child looks over to see a mean looking man with long hair and a beard, and suddenly it turns into a grizzly bear chasing the car. But then the car speeds away. And finally, their car approaches another car pulling boat, and it’s thundering and lightning, and a little alarm goes off to alert the driver. But then the child glances through the windshield and the boat turns in to a scary pirate ship firing of cannons in the middle of the sea. And then the car zooms past the boat and arrives safely at home and the parents carry their young child into the house, and the child waves to the car in gratitude.
And the message of the commercial becomes clear – be afraid. Be very afraid. And if you don’t want to be afraid anymore, but our car. Because the world is a scary and threatening place to both you and your child. Which really grabs at the heartstrings, when you see a child who is afraid. But if you buy our car, we will keep you safe.
Fear. It is one of the greatest motivators. Advertisers and politicians push on our fears all the time. Because if they can just get us to be afraid, then they’ve got us. And we’ll do just about anything to not be afraid anymore.
And I can’t help but wonder if the church has taken this gospel text that we’ve just heard and has used it to do the exact same thing as that commercial – to make people afraid.
Because there is that part about the unforgiveable sin against the Holy Spirit. Which is just the perfect tool for creating fear and getting people to buy into the church’s product of salvation. You see, many of us throughout our church going life have been told that God forgives all sin, but then along comes this text where Jesus says, “Yeah, but there is this one sin…” And suddenly, we are all afraid and we all want to know what it is and how do we make sure that we don’t commit it. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Because all these sins over here can be forgive, but there is just this one…And that’s all you have to do – just instill a tiny bit of fear and that’s enough.
And suddenly, fear is alive and well among us. And then our image of God becomes one of fear. You know, here is this long list of all these sins that God will lovingly and graciously forgive, but then there is just this one sin over here, that if you commit it, well…that one God will hold against you. What kind of God would that be? A God that holds a grudge? A God who sets a trap that we are all afraid of stepping on?
And as a preacher, the commentaries weren’t much help on this front either this week. One theologian said that this is “One of the most problematic and misused texts in the Gospels.” One of the most problematic and misused.
And suddenly not only am I afraid of this text, I’m afraid to preach on this text. Because I don’t want to be the next one to misuse the text in a sermon.
But then I remembered that one of the most common phrases in Scripture is “Do not be afraid.” So would Jesus really want to instill fear in us? I don’t think so.
So, I tried something. I did everything I could to stop being afraid of the text. And when I did and with the help of others, I could see that maybe, unlike so many other things in our life, maybe this text wasn’t meant to make us afraid. In fact, maybe it’s meant to cast out our fear through love.
Now, to get there we have to go back a bit. Because we don’t even know what Jesus has done that everyone is so upset about. Up until this point in chapter three, Jesus has proclaimed that the kingdom of God is near. That it’s coming to this place and to demonstrate what it looks like when the kingdom of God shows up, he had a meal with some people, he cast out a demon or two and he healed a bunch of sick people, and he forgave a guy’s sins. So, you know, what’s the big deal? I mean, it seems like something everyone could get behind. Oh, except for the fact that meal he ate…was with sinners and tax collectors – which meant he was hanging out with the wrong crowd. The kind of people your parents wouldn’t want you hanging around with. And that demon he cast out and the healing he did? That was all done on the Sabbath, which was against religious law. And those sins he forgave? He had no authority to do so. You can’t just go around forgiving sins, Jesus. We have a whole process in place and temple for that sort of thing. It’s not allowed to just go forgiving someone’s sins.
What we learn is that when Jesus shows up, bringing about the kingdom of God, he does so by breaking all the rules. By stripping away at the social and religious barriers that divides us into insiders and outsiders. Good people and bad people. When Jesus brings about the kingdom of God, he breaks the rules in order to extend God’s love in the world. If you walk around St. John’s a bit, you’ll see that same phrase. St. John’s – Extending God’s Love. Looks like we are in the same business as Jesus. Are we going to be willing to break so rules in order to do that?
All of Jesus’ work to this point has been about extending God’s love, even if it means breaking some rules. So, no wonder people tried to stop him. He was threatening their whole way of life. And their religious institution – which they thought was on the side of God. But Jesus’ actions call that all into question. That God’s love and healing and forgiveness and welcome can be given out so freely and broadly then they have been. So, no wonder people are mad at Jesus. He is redrawing the boundaries of who we think is right and wrong, in and out, good and bad.
So Jesus is at work extending God’s love and these people – his family and the religious authorities – are saying, “Okay, okay, that’s enough, Jesus.” His family said he was out of his mind. Even worse, the religious authorities say he’s possessed by Satan.
And then Jesus does what he does best. He uses their logic against them in the form of a parable. You think I’m possessed by Satan? But I cast out demons. How can Satan cast out Satan? I’m not possessed by Satan, he says. I’m Satan’s worst enemy. In fact, I am an intruder in Satan’s house. I’m the one who ties up Satan and steals back all the things Satan has held hostage. You see, Jesus is the one who sneaks into Satan’s house, like a thief in the night, and sets free all that Satan has possessed. And he does it by forgiving the sin of those held captive by sin, even though they maybe don’t deserve it. By healing the sick on the Sabbath day, even though religious law condemns it. By eating a meal with those no one would dare to sit by. And with each of these, pillars in Satan’s house begin to crumble.
Now, I love this, he says, there will be forgiveness, whether you like it or not. Which is like Jesus’ way of saying you can’t stop this. You can’t stop God’s love from being extended to more and more people in the world. But if you can’t see the work I’m doing as being from God, as extending God’s love in the world, then….well that’s like the worst sin of all. A sin against the very Spirit of God, who is Love. Because how will you ever know God’s grace and forgiveness if you can’t even recognize it in the work I am doing.
To be clear, I think the sin against the Holy Spirit is to believe that Jesus’ work is evil. But to be even more clear, I don’t think Jesus is trying to scare them, or us, by threatening them with eternal damnation. I think he’s trying to shake them awake with it, saying, “Can’t you see? Can’t you see how important this is? That what I am doing is extending God’s love in the world?” He’s trying to open their eyes to the fact that the work of God can go beyond their religious rules.
And so he gives them another chance to see it. Next, Jesus takes the most intimate and close relationship we can have, what is meant to be one of the greatest sources of love in the world – family – he makes it very, very big.
Jesus’ family shows up at the door to take him home, and the crowd around him tells him that his family is outside waiting. And Jesus looks around and he says, “You are my family. I don’t think he is rejecting his family outside! But rather he is redrawing the boundaries of what it means to be family. And he makes this great source of love in the world much, much bigger, in order to extend God’s love to more and more people.
So, the question we are invited to ask this morning is – do we live like a family? Do we see each other as family? And not just the people we like, but even the ones we’re pretty sure we wouldn’t like. Or to whom we’ve never spoken a word?
Let’s not let today’s gospel send us away afraid. We’ve got enough fear in the other parts of our life. And Jesus isn’t instilling fear, he’s casting it out. Today, Jesus is extending our love for one another, so that we might see each other not just as fellow Christians or human beings, but as family. And with that kind of Divine Love among us, what’s to fear?