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, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
God of truth, help us to keep your law of love and to walk in ways of wisdom, that we may find true life in Jesus Christ your Son.
Eternal Father, we thank you for nourishing us with these heavenly gifts: may our communion strengthen us in faith, build us up in hope, and make us grow in love; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent tricked me, and I ate.’ The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.’
1 Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
2 If you, Lord, were to mark what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand?
3 But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you shall be feared.
4 I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
in his word is my hope.
5 My soul waits for the Lord, more than the night watch for the morning,
more than the night watch for the morning.
6 O Israel, wait for the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy;
7 With him is plenteous redemption
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture – ‘I believed, and so I spoke’ – we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
2 Corinthians 4.13 – 5.1
… and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 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.
‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ – for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
Mark 3: 27–35
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 2
Do you think Jesus was out of his mind? – Well, that is what they were saying about him. Why did Jesus’ family want to restrain him? Why did they want to, as we would say, “put him away”? Would he be like the person in the attic in so many gothic horror stories – mad and kept incommunicado, away from all possible contact from anyone else? They (you know, that crowd we thought about last week) were all saying that Jesus was out of his mind. Why did they say he was mad?
Don’t you think this is a rather odd way to start a reading from the gospel in our worship today? The snippet from the gospel does not tell us anything about this judgement. Was it the crowd gathered around him, so many that food was scarce and no one could eat? Did that crowd drive him mad? We thought about the crowd last week, didn’t we? We considered peer pressure, that “keeping up appearances” which everyone feels. We should consider the notion of “received wisdom” of old wive’s tales, and we all know how accurate those are, don’t we!
“People were saying, ‘he has gone out of his mind.’” Who were those people? They are part of the baying crowd all around, that crowd which was making it impossible to eat. That crowd pressing in on Jesus as he went about his mission.
I think this is a very odd beginning to a reading from a Sunday gospel. Let’s see if we can understand this a little better. What has happened up to this point in this chapter of the gospel of Mark? Our lesson today is at the end of the third chapter. What happened at the beginning of the chapter? To begin with Jesus heals the man with the withered hand, then so many people had gathered around that he had to take refuge in a boat, “that he would not be crushed”. People came to him, it seems, because his fame for preaching and healing had become generally known. Next in the chapter is the appointment of the disciples who were to be with him. All twelve are named and called apostles. They were to “join” Jesus in the preaching and healing of Israel, the people of God. Jesus was going to send them on their own individual missions after they had joined him.
Is that the reason Jesus was called “mad” – because he was a peripatetic who preached in synagogues to which he did not belong and healed people with whom he had no connection? The life of a wanderer is not the Jewish style of living at that time. The Jews were “home bodies” – they were born, lived and died in the same village usually, much the same as most people around the world. The “wandering charismatic” was an oddity at that time. Like Jesus, they would have no home, unlike even the birds and the foxes which had their own nests. The Son of Man, Jesus Christ, and his disciples would have no place of their own. They would wander in their ministry, preaching and healing as they could. These Jewish travellers would talk about the coming of the Kingdom to an expectant Israel. They would build on the Messianic hope about that Kingdom of God just about to burst into life in the very next moment. Paul the apostle had this same fervour and hope, and he was another wanderer. These people were not ordinary amongst the population, either in Judea or Rome, Egypt or Britain.
These wandering Jews are not absolutely strange in Israel. Many left home to sit at the feet of a famous rabbi, although they did not belong in that particular community. It is the sort of thing that still happens in the Hasidic community – around the “rebbe” gathers a group of students – they arrive because of his reputation. We might even see this Jewish “school” tradition realised here in the gospel reading for today. In the period of the gospel, these students would go to learn from the wise man and return home to enrich their own communities. They would become disciples of the rabbi and might even one day become the leader in their local congregation. Sometimes, they would find a new home and live there.
The church does this when it educates men and women to become priests. They often go away for years and then return to a local congregation to lead it. Sometimes priests are plucked from local churches for this time of training and then they are placed in their home churches again.
So we might say nothing has really changed, but we don’t call our priests mad, do we? Well, let’s leave that as a rhetorical question and move back to the wandering charismatics in the hellenistic period.
Were they seen to be mad? I suppose they might have been, just like those shepherds in the nativity story. They were all displaced people and they are very difficult to deal with, aren’t they?
‘Madness’ – the charge levelled at Jesus and his disciples, even disciples of today – is a social judgement on the stranger, and what is more strange than a fellow walking about the countryside preaching about the Kingdom of God with such power that many come to be partial to his message. Imagine such a madman having the reputation of the power to heal from all maladies, the blind, the lame, and even the mad had all been touched by this miracle worker, this preacher without fixed abode.
This is the significance of the statement, “‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” People who were adjudged mad must be under the power of a spirit which is so very different to spirit of the normal population. Beelzebul was the origin of this madness according to the thought of the time. If Jesus was able to drive out demons, then he must have the power of this demon. Jesus counters their argument, doesn’t he?
But what of the relation to his family, who wanted to restrain him – from what? we have to ask, his preaching, his healing, his teaching, his wandering the countryside with those strange men whom he called apostles and disciples? His family must accept that Jesus is mad, to want to restrain him. “Your mother and siblings are outside, don’t you want to see them?” Jesus asks, “Who are my family?” Jesus does not recognise family ties, and so in the usual sense he is not right in the head according to the crowd crushing in on him. Rather, I would think Jesus considers the silenced crowd as his family, those who had no expectation, but trusted his words in silence. This quiet crowd has no wish to restrain or push him. This crowd just wants to listen to him – to be with him in the genuine way friends sit with each other. There are no expectations or demands, no judgements whatsoever. They are not the crowd who at first says, “This man is mad.” I think this is the madness we should all aspire to, to preach about the coming kingdom and heal people in their time of direst need, when they wish to be silent in themselves just as we usually do.