Tying the Strong One
A Meditation on Mark 3: 20 – 35
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church June 10, 2018
Every family tree has a crazy cousin in it. (And when I use the word crazy here, please understand I mean no disrespect for those who live with mental illness.) Crazy, as in loud, funny, full of energy. Also, typically genuine and humble. The one who walks in the room, overflowing with funny personal stories and hugging everyone indiscriminately. Not overly concerned with politeness. Potentially mischievous. Even after the crazy cousin leaves the room, the stories they told are repeated over and over, with warmth and laughter. There is a mysteriously unifying quality to their presence.
I see Jesus being that kind of crazy. But that isn’t the kind of crazy that his family was complaining about, and we get that, too. As Jesus continues to roam our world and unsettle us, as Jesus continues to roam through our communities, saying unconventional things, here’s what we want to do: we want to put an arm around his shoulders, hand him a glass of sweet tea and a lemon square, turn to our friends, and whisper behind his back (as knowing looks are exchanged), “bless his little heart.” Jesus is that member of the family about whom everyone whispers and nods, with concerned looks on their faces. When he speaks we ever so deftly change the topic. “Haven’t the hydrangeas been beautiful this year?”
We should be concerned about Jesus. Jesus’ family was absolutely right: Jesus was out of his mind. Crazy and unpredictable. They understood this, they realized they were witnessing something and someone the world had never known; they just didn’t know how to interpret what they were seeing. We can’t fault them for that. It would have been impossible for God to walk this earth and not be misunderstood. Completely impossible. Because God’s way of doing everything is so unlike what we expect. We live in the world of broken humanity where people cause intentional pain. We live in a broken world, in which our own insecurities and weaknesses cause us to hurt one another, to mistrust one another, to put our own needs first and the needs of others last. We look out for number one while God says, “where are the least and the lost?” As frantically as we run around with our label makers, slapping “good” or “bad” or “right” or “wrong,” on everyone, God is equally busily pulling off the labels, trying to knit us together. We wander around forgetting to watch for God’s sweet face in the crowd.
Jesus was crazy…that is, if crazy means loving without limitations. Crazy…if crazy means sacrificial forgiveness. Crazy…if crazy means knocking us off or our independent feet to make us realize that this planet is one big vulnerable family.
Being family, intimate family means taking it all on – the disagreements, the disappointments, and the wounds. And when I say this I’m talking about our relationship with Jesus. If you have walked this path of faith for any time at all, if you have any relationship at all with Jesus, you have disagreed with him, been disappointed by him, even felt wounded by him.
We will be disappointed in Jesus for preaching forgiveness when we cling to vengeance. We will disagree with Jesus when he tells us to give our coat as well as our shirt, to give to all who ask. Can’t Jesus see this person is just an alcoholic, a drug user, who is going to abuse whatever I give? And yes, we will feel wounded by Jesus when our lives do not unfold perfectly, when dark times extend for far too long. We will question and doubt and call him crazy. And he will forgive us and never let us go…
From the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus’ family was perplexed and disappointed. Confused by his public witness, they sought to bind him, to limit him. Don’t ever kid yourself that the Bible is not relevant to our own lives. We are just like these family members. We, too, want to rein Jesus in, to pull him back from this edgy ministry of his. We want to pull Jesus away from the transformational work he is doing and hide him away, keep him quiet. Because it’s just too radical. It’s just too risky…and if we are part of it, they will call us crazy, too…
Jesus family wanted to tie up this strong man. They wanted to bind Jesus, if not literally, then figuratively. They did not want him to embarrass them anymore. Ironic isn’t it? They wanted to bind up love embodied and hide this love away from the world. But how do you bind up love itself? The only possibility is if love allows it to happen, as on the cross. There love was bound, but only for a moment, and only so that the exquisite power of love could be witnessed by the world. Love is stronger than death, but a love so strong is frightening to our human hearts.
The religious leaders want to bind him as well. Confused and concerned that Jesus is able to heal people who, in their understanding, were possessed by evil spirits, the religious leaders accuse Jesus of being evil, too. Jesus pokes holes in their logic: a divided house cannot stand. If he were evil, he would do evil things, not good things! He would use evil to enslave rather than free. He tells a brief parable: 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 burglarized. This is not a difficult parable…not difficult but somewhat unconventional. Jesus is the burglar. (How crazy is that??!!) The strong person is the evil one. Jesus, however, is stronger. Jesus binds up the evil one and steals away all those whom he has held for his own. Jesus, the good burglar? We are familiar with good shepherd, “the way, the truth and the life, the living water…the burglar? Not up there in the top ten list of names for Jesus…but that is the analogy in this parable!
Which then leads Jesus to speak words which have perplexed people through the ages: he speaks about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This section of scripture has put fear in the hearts of Christians because of its reference to an “unforgiveable sin.”
One of the best explanations I have read of this confusing passage comes from Scott Hoezee, who writes:
Apparently [the unpardonable sin] has to do with morally inverting the world to the point where darkness is light and light darkness. And that is no run-of-the-mill sin. You do not live this way and talk this way and view the world this way due to some little mistake or a momentary lapse of judgment.
What can be done for people who insist on looking at the world that way? This is the essence of blasphemy. Blasphemy is at bottom a form of theft. Blasphemers steal holy language and symbols, associate them then with ugly and awful things, and so rob God of the chance to get through to us via his chosen form of revelation. So if the KKK can take the symbol of the cross and transform it into a symbol of racial hatred instead of what it really is (namely, a sign of reconciliation among all races and between God and the entire world), then God loses a key piece of how he wants to convey his love to us.
Maybe that is why this “sin” is unpardonable: the ones who need the grace that could pardon it reject that same grace as sheer poison. And what can be done for one such as that? http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-5b-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel
Jesus knows how easily we get things turned upside down and inside out. Jesus knows that we sometimes come at him with our ropes, thinking we can bind him and tuck him away, out of sight. Jesus cannot be bound; he is the strong one. Throughout the church’s history we have had to struggle with what that means. Racial discrimination first endorsed, then condemned by the church. Gender discrimination first endorsed, then condemned by the church. The church has discriminated over finances, education, mental and physical ability, and on and on. But every time, God’s love proves stronger. God’s welcome proves wider.
When Jesus’ own family questioned his purpose, mission and ministry, he did not denounce them. He didn’t say, “these people are no longer my family.” Here’s what he did say, “see all these other people? They are my family, too.” He continued to welcome, he continued to adopt new faces into the family of God.
So the question for us is..when do we bind Jesus because we are afraid of what he is asking us to do or to be? When do we bind Jesus, kidding ourselves that we are doing good instead of harm? Those are the questions with which we must live. Jesus looks crazy to the world, but then the world has never had very good eyesight…Let us live and love and gaze at the world through the eyes of Christ. Let us look inside and upside down and every possible way. The world does not have enough crazy cousins…let us be that crazy cousin that the world so desperately needs. Thanks be to God. Amen.