There are all sorts of euphemisms for being a little crazy, weird, or eccentric. He has a screw loose. He’s a taco short of a combination plate. A few clowns short of a circus. A sandwich short of a picnic. Out to lunch. Lost his marbles. Not firing on all cylinders. Not playing with a full deck. Knitting with one needle. The elevator doesn’t go to the top floor. The lights are on but no one’s at home.
That’s what they were saying about Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. He was “beside himself,” “confused,” “out of His mind.” That was the opinion of Jesus’ own family! He didn’t seem Himself of late, crammed in by the crowds, unable to think let alone eat, the hordes of crazy demon possessed people clammoring for Jesus’ attention. Mary and the boys wanted to take Jesus into protective custody. Let Him rest; perhaps a little vacation at the shore; a little R&R to get things back in order.
It’s understandable. It isn’t every day that God appears in the flesh, born of a Virgin. And even the Virgin who bore Him sometimes tripped over the craziness of it all. Her son was the Son of God – true God and true Man in one person. That didn’t happen every day to every mother. And if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, we’d be reasonable to think Jesus wasn’t playing with a full deck either. That’s just downright nuts to call God your Father, except in the most symbolic sense. Unless, of course, it’s true.
The religious types, the teachers of the Torah, had a different view. “He’s in league with the devil. Casts out demons by the prince of demons, Beelzebub.” That’s a harsher assessment than calling Him crazy. It calls into question everything that Jesus was doing, all those signs that showed He was the Messiah of Israel. All the healings, the exorcisms, everything had a suspicious glaze on it. What if He cut a deal with the devil? He was tempted to do that. What if He actually did? What if Jesus and Satan were in cahoots with each other and all those great miracles were really part of a grand conspiracy to take over the world. There’s probably a best selling book and a movie deal in there somewhere.
The world does much the same with Jesus today. They either write Him off as a religious kook, or marginalize Him to the fringes of history as some murky figure “we don’t really know very much about” We don’t hear the deal with the devil theory much these days. I suspect that it’s because a large chunk of the world denies the devil as much as it denies God, the evidence notwithstanding. The people who were saying these things actually saw the miracles Jesus was doing. It shows you that miracles will only get you so far, and they can’t create faith in Jesus. The religious saw Jesus’ miracles, how He man-handled the demons with a word from His mouth. And their conclusion: He’s in league with Satan.
They said the same of cousin John the Baptizer – “He has a devil.” That’s how you wrote off someone in those days. You insinuated that he has a devil in need of exorcism.
Jesus nails all of it to the wall with a little parable. “How can Satan drive out Satain?” Divided kingdoms don’t stand. Divided houses fall. And if Satan is actually opposed to himself, then his days are over.” That would be really crazy. Satan casting out his own demons. Nuts. Nuts even to suggest it.
Actually, the truth is just the opposite. The devil’s met his match in Jesus. Jesus is the promised seed – promised way back in Genesis. You heard it. “I will make enmity between you (the devil) and the woman, between your seed and hers. (Notice it’s the woman’s seed; no man involved. Can you say “born of the Virgin Mary”? We celebrate it every Christmas, the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.) He will crush your head (a fatal blow), and you will crush His heel (the cross) (Gen 3:15).
There you have it. Straight from the mouth of God. The first promise of salvation, couched as actually as a curse on the devil. God would do what fallen man would not. He’s not the one in league with the devil; Adam and Eve were. And we are as their sons and daughters. God the Son, the Seed of a woman, would engage the devil in hand to hand combat. In the process, He would be bruised, literally a death on the cross. But in His cross-bruised heel is the victory.
You might go so far as to say that the death of Jesus is the exorcism of the world. That’s how Mark paints it, and the sketched lines are right here in today’s Gospel. The work of Jesus is “bind the strong man” and plunder his goods. The divine Thief has come in the flesh to tie up the devil (the Revelation speaks of the devil bound for a figurative thousand years). You and I aren’t strong enough, or willing enough, to pull this off. It takes the Son of God in the flesh to do it. We’re the plunder the divine Thief carries off after He’s tied up the strong man. We’re plundered goods, snatched from sin, death, darkness and devil, all that Adam’s sin and our own sin has done to us.
We are carted off to freedom. Salvation is a hostage rescue effort. We’re held captive to sin and death. Christ breaks into our world, overpowers our captors, and takes us along with Him in His death and resurrection into a life of freedom. We’ve been pulled out of an eternal hostage situation by the strong, rescuing hand of the Son of God, reaching out to you from the cross, grabbing hold of you in the water of Baptism, in the preached Word of Christ, at the table of His Body and Blood, tossing out the lifeline of faith, embracing you in His death.
We sometimes speak of the keys as binding and loosing. Binding the unrepentant in their sins, and loosing the repentant. I’d invite you to consider it also this way: whenever sins are forgiven, sinners are loosed, their chains are broken, they are freed, and the devil is bound by that same forgiveness. He hates it when you are free and forgiven.
“All the sins and blasphemies of man will be forgiven.” People have been saying some not very nice things about Him. And He says, “All is forgiven. I died for it all. There isn’t one sin that hasn’t been answered for in my death.” That’s pretty amazing. Crazy even. Throw your worst at Jesus, and He says, “Forgiven.”
Except for this: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven (or better, never has forgiveness). He is guilty of an eternal sin.”
There is lots of ink spilled over the unpardonable sin, the mortal sin, the sin that breaks salvation’s back. There’s a lot of anxiety over it too. Did I do it? Will I know if I did? I know you’ve heard this countless times before, but it bears repeating: If you’re worried about it, you haven’t done it.
Beyond that, it’s fairly clear what Jesus is saying. He said this because the religious types were saying that He had an unclean spirit. They were calling the Holy Spirit unclean and rejecting His work. Imagine receiving a notice that you just won a million dollar prize, and the van with all the balloons and the big check pulls up in front of your house and you slam the door in the guy’s face. And he comes back the next day, and you pull a gun on him. And he comes back the third day, and you sick the dog on him. At some point, he’s going to stop coming around. You’re a millionaire, but you refuse to receive what is yours. That’s the sin against the Holy Spirit – refusing to be forgiven, refusing to receive what the Spirit wants to deliver to you from Jesus.
The unforgivable sin is not unforgivable because it’s so big and bad. Jesus can deal with big and bad sin, and big, bad sinners. The unforgivable sin is unforgivable because it wants no part of forgiveness. And that’s just downright crazy, foolish even.
Jesus’ family finally arrives on the scene. There’s a crowd gathered around Jesus in a tight circle, so tight His family is stuck outside. “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” And Jesus says a remarkable thing. He looks around at this motly group of sinners, these losers who have lost their lives in Him, and He sees, “Here. These people gathered around me. These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Did you catch that? That’s just crazy. His own mother, the blessed Virgin Mary, is on the outside at that moment. Outside the circle. His family, His mother and sister and brother are those who are gathered around Him, who trust Him, who look to Him for their life, who hear His Word.
That’s you! You gathered in Baptism. You hearing the Word of God. You kneeling at the altar to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood, the fruits of His sacrifice that frees you. That’s you gathered in that great circle called “the communion of saints.”
You say, “But I don’t always do the will of God. How can I be sure?” The will of God is that everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of truth in Jesus Christ. God’s will is to save you, and to do His will is to receive what He wants to give you – forgiveness, life, salvation. You are Jesus’ family. It may sound crazy, but your Baptism, the Word, the Body and Blood testify to you.
It’s crazy. Getting up early on a Sunday morning when the rest of the world sleeps in or rushes off to work or play or whatever. Going through ancient rituals that have no correlation with contemporary culture. Calling yourself a sinner and believing that a pastor’s word is Christ’s word forgiving your sins. Singing old difficult hymns, praying to a God you can’t see or hear directly. Eating a bit of bread, drinking a sip of wine believing they are the sacrificial Body and Blood of Jesus. Trusting Jesus’ finished worke instead of your own works for salvation.
Some will say, “It’s of the devil.” Most will likely say you’ve got only one hand on the religious steering wheel, a french fry short of a happy meal, you’re an odd ball, nutty as a fruit cake, on another planet. Crazy.
God calls it “faithful.”
In the Name of Jesus,