St. Mark 3.20-35
Photo: “Zakaeus” by Niels Larsen Stevns
Well, well, well . . . . the religious leaders and their followers have been at it again this past week. Since Tuesday actually, since Tuesday, when Caitlyn Jenner was introduced to the world on the cover of Vanity Fair and in an extensive spread on the inside. This was just in the nick of time too – outside of same-gender marriage, these religious leaders have really had nothing or no one to condemn lately from the LGBT community. But now, those who purport to know in its entirety the mystery of God’s will at last have someone to attack. Various and sundry religious leaders have been helping us to understand that Caitlyn Jenner’s status will bring down the Republic, be the end of Western civilization, and the downfall of the church. One archbishop – whom we shall not name – has gone so far as to say that the next thing you know child sacrifice and goddess worship will be the new normal. How Ms. Jenner is going to bring all this about wasn’t made immediately clear by the dear archbishop or any other of the loudmouthed religious leaders.
Of course, none of this carrying-on is anything new. In every age, religious leaders and others who purport to know the judgments of God have found one group or another to go after in the name of God. The times may change, the names and identities of those whom the religious leaders claim are an abomination to God may change, but those who spew forth lies on behalf of their own particular image of God seem ever to be with us. Take the poem of this morning’s first reading from Genesis. And it’s not an historical account – let’s get that out of the way right now; rather the reading comes from a mytho-poetic narrative of a people trying to grapple with the many aspects of human evil – and these early people, using whatever techniques of language they had available to them, were trying to say among other things, that evil has its origin in lies about God – the serpent lies to the woman about the fruit of a certain tree, that God doesn’t want her to eat it because then she’ll be like God, possessing infinite knowledge like God, the knowledge necessary to judge between good and evil. The human would therefore be equipped to be God, judge of the world. Evil comes not only from telling and believing lies about God but also from wanting to be everlasting God, the judge of the living and the dead. Thereby hangs human religiosity.
This brings us to this week’s episode of the Jesus Story according to St. Mark. We join the story at the end of Episode – that is to say chapter – Three. In previous episodes, Jesus has been identified by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Messiah with whom God is well-pleased! Oddly, though, Jesus-the-Messiah has been acting in an altogether un-messianic way, flouting the very religious laws that the religious leaders expected their messiah to fulfill to perfection. First, instead of calling nice, powerful, religious people from nice, clean neighborhoods to be his disciples, Jesus has chosen dirty fisher-folk from Galilee, the region of the pagans, to be his companions – unclean Galilean fisher-folk who couldn’t properly keep a religious rule if their disreputable lives depended upon it. And if that weren’t enough, Jesus continues to associate with sleazy types that no self-respecting religious leader would ever come close to – he goes about bestowing favor upon a sick, old woman (Simon’s mother-in-law) along with all sorts of other sickos, who, the religion of the day says are suffering God’s wrath because they are, without a doubt, abominations before the Lord. If that weren’t enough, Jesus also touches a leper (strictly forbidden) in the course of healing him. And, not only has Jesus summoned a tax-collector to be one of his companions, but he and his disciples are also continually eating dinner and partying down with a whole crowd of tax-collectors and others considered to be a threat to religion – if not also to God. And then, in a move seemingly custom designed to piss-off the religious-leader-types, Jesus violates the holy-day of the week by picking grain and eating it – and to add insult – bestows favor upon a person with a deformed hand – which of course got that way because he or his mother or his father must have been a pervert of some sort.
… here in this place, family is you – you who abide together in love and faithfulness. Family is you in this place who hear God’s message to the irreligious of the world, along with the religious, and the “just spiritual,” or none-of-the-above.
And so this is where we join the narrative already in progress, in which the religious and family values types (apparently including, at least at this point, some of Jesus’ own family) the religious leaders and the family values types are mouthing off and accusing Jesus of alternately being out of his mind and/or being possessed by Beelzebul – Beelzebul being most accurately translated not as “The Lord of the Flies,” but rather “The Lord of That upon Which the Flies Do Sit.” Jesus replies to this bit about being possessed by “The Lord of . . . Dung” with a parable – one that essentially says that his purpose is to bind up what he calls the strong man, the Prince of this world as our first hymn says, the one some call Satan. Among other things, the strong man or Satan (Satan meaning the accuser) is the pre-eminent one who tells lies about God, who says that God is a snarling, snarky, foaming-at-the-mouth deity, out to get human beings, to wreak vengeance upon them, ever on the look-out for people doing something irreligious and then smack ‘em dead with the deity’s own cosmic fly-swatter: Sploosh! “One more dead queer.” And Satan is also the one who puts into our heads the notion that we’re the ones who are actually qualified to sit at the right hand of God and judge the living and the dead – and of course, in our lied-to minds, God’s judgment is always in synch with our condemnation of all those with who we do not agree (Oh, did I say we and our? That we judge the living and the dead just like the religious leaders? – even though the cross has once and for all shown us what God’s judgment of the whole world really is: forgive them, for they are really pretty clueless. Or as God put it to Jonah about the people of Nineveh – those poor people don’t know their right hand from their left – which is a nice Hebrew idiom that also has something to do with dung . . . and if you really want me to spell that out for you, I’ll tell you later.)
“I’m going to lay it out for you religious types,” says Jesus, in summary – and this applies not only to those trying to foster hatred and violence against LGBT folks, their families, and their allies – but it applies also to us when we ourselves consign them – the religious leaders – to hell. Jesus says, “I’m going to lay it out for you religious types and everybody else within hearing range: humanity will be forgiven its every sin and whatever lies it tells about God. There’s only one unforgiveable sin – against the Holy Spirit.” And that sin, essentially, is to get in the way of Jesus’ forgiveness of all sinners, even those who commit the sin of blasphemy. The sin against the Holy Spirit is simply to tell the lie that God in Christ Jesus cannot, will not forgive the sin of the whole world. The sin against the Holy Spirit is to speak untruthfully about God in Christ who promises to you(!) that all your sins are forgiven, unconditionally and without any merit of your own.
And Jesus then rounds out the episode with a few choice words for the family values crowd – family is who and what you make it. So, here in this place, family is you – you who abide together in love and faithfulness. Family is you in this place who hear God’s message to the irreligious of the world, along with the religious, and the “just spiritual,” or none-of-the-above. Jesus’ family is all people, is all of us, who desperately need to hear hour by hour, day after day, week after week, the singular and salutary Promise of the crucified and risen Christ given to deniers, deserters, failures, and liars: “Peace be with you! The Peace of God be with you – now and unto the end of the ages.”
Now then, go forth into the world in that peace and be of good courage – with Christ and in Christ – to bless those who hate Caitlyn Jenner and all LGBT folks, their families, and their allies – for the religious leaders have no lasting power over us; therefore, we do forgive them. Yes. Even them.