The portion of the Gospel according to St. Mark that we just heard is one of the most contentious set of verses in the whole Gospel. The arguments people have had over the lection we just heard would make your head spin. Who constituted Jesus’ family, did He have brothers and sisters, or the real question, did Mary remain a virgin? Did that family, whoever was part of it, really at some point think that Jesus was out of His mind? What constitutes the unpardonable sin, and have I committed it? The Church had most of these issues in hand until the Reformation, when a whole bunch of Germans and Scandinavians lost their minds, and we’ve been mulling over them (the issues, as well as those sad heathens to the North) ever since.
The first question is pretty easy, the question of Jesus’ family. The answer is no, Jesus did not have brothers and sisters, and Mary did, for all evidence, remain a virgin. No one thought any different, really, until seventeen centuries after anyone could prove any different. The brothers and sisters referenced in this passage were most likely cousins or other relations of Jesus, who would have escorted Mary when she went to get her Son out from the midst of the unruly crowds that were following Him. Nowhere in the Gospels does it say that Jesus had siblings, and in fact, all evidence points to Him being an only child.
The second question is a bit more difficult. Did Jesus’ family think He was nuts? By the time we get to what happened in today’s reading, Jesus had done a bunch of stuff that would have caused His relations to wonder a bit. In quick succession, Jesus had healed a man’s hand on the Sabbath (a big no-no), engaged and defeated a ton of demons, sent out disciples to herald Him, and attracted huge crowds that wouldn’t leave Him alone long enough to eat a sandwich. Now, “it appears that it was particularly Jesus’ engagement with the demonic that was causing Mary and Jesus’ (family) to arch their eyebrows the sharpest. It all seemed a little bizarre to them. In verse 21 they say literally that they had to get him on home because Jesus was exeste, a word meaning to stand outside of yourself. Even today we may refer to a person who is an emotional wreck as being “beside himself”…The idea is that someone has taken leave of his senses (or his senses have taken leave of him) and so what remains for the time being is a person whose emotions are unchecked and unregulated. This is the family’s assessment of Jesus… We probably can give the family a break—no one in history, after all, had ever before had to deal with having the Son of God as a close family member.”1 A more generous reading of the text would see a loving family concerned that Jesus had been through a lot lately, and wasn’t taking the time to eat and get some rest. “He’s nuts to work so hard,” someone might say. I’ll leave it at that.
The third question is perhaps the most difficult, because any answer is most likely incomplete. I remember back in the late 70’s and 80’s the issue of the unpardonable sin was big amongst the Jesus Movement people, not just because they hadn’t checked what the Church Father’s had said about it, but because of their emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Had they, or someone they knew, committed the unpardonable sin, blaspheming the Holy Spirit? First, it’s helpful to know what blasphemy is. Blasphemy is the act of cursing God, or of assuming to yourself the rights or attributes of God. Jesus was accused of blasphemy because He said He was God; we would come to find out that He was not a blasphemer but rather God Himself. For us, blaspheming the Holy Spirit would amount to a rejection of our baptism, but not just a rejection, but a constant, continual, purposeful, and mindful rejection of our baptism. It would mean shutting off our conscience, not listening for or to God in any way, and rejecting Christ in all things. It’s actually kind of hard to do that, if not almost impossible, for the baptized. So it seems that we need not be concerned much or at all about anyone committing the unpardonable sin, or about the state of Jesus’ family, or about the Jesus’ state of mind while trying to grab lunch 2000 years ago.
So what do we need to be concerned with? Well, each other, for one thing. They say you can’t choose your family, but you have, this is your family, and we ought to take care of one another in all things. We should be concerned with our city and our township, about what our lives and our collective life here says about who our God is. And we need to be concerned with our relationship with Jesus; yes, we need to be concerned about the more subtle but pardonably ways we reject Him in our everyday lives, but all the more, if we concern ourselves with always being active in doing what is right, we can put away the worry of doing wrong. And finally, we do need to be concerned for those who don’t yet know the good news of Jesus, for His greatest concern is the souls of those He came to save.
1Scott Hoezee, This Week