Sunday, June 10, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from June 10, 2018

3 PENTECOST, PROPER V - B- 18         MARK 3. 20-35

“The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat.”

Jesus began his earthly ministry in Galilee after John had been arrested. He called the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, James and John to leave their nets and follow him. Mark tells us that Jesus preached and taught in the synagogue at Capernaum early in his ministry.

There was present on that day a man with an “unclean” spirit. The unholy spirit recognized Jesus as the Holy One of God. Jesus commanded the spirit to be silent and then he cast him out setting the man free of his demonic possession. His actions and words in the synagogue at Capernaum astonished and amazed the people and sent shock waves as far as Jerusalem.

This, however, was only the beginning. Christ continued his mission of preaching and teaching and healing as he made his way from Galilee to Judea and back again. More than one demonic possessed soul was rescued in the process. His fame spread and the news of his teaching and his power over the unclean spirits brought scribes from Jerusalem to see exactly what he was up to.

It wasn’t just those who were possessed that he healed but the lame, the blind, and as we heard in last week’s gospel, a man with a withered hand. The authorities conspired to get rid of him. The people could not get enough of him. They were hungry for his teaching about God and the coming Kingdom and they continued to be amazed at his power to heal and to cast out demons.

Everywhere he went, the crowds followed him and gathered around him so much so, Mark tells us in today’s gospel that he and his disciples could not even eat. Strange how people interpret the same things they see and hear differently. Mark tells us that some of his own people, some who had known Jesus from childhood, thought that he was out of his mind.

The scribes naturally jumped on that bandwagon and proclaimed that he had an unclean spirit. Jesus was not from God, they said, but was in league with Beelzebub, the lord of the flies, a god worshiped by the Philistines. Here he is called the ruler of the demons.

The scribes were trying to discredit Jesus. He didn’t fit into their scheme of messiah. He had no credentials. His own family and those who knew him thought he was mad. Thus, they sought to label him as such. He would have to be in league with the devil to be doing what he was doing. That would explain it, and it would also justify doing whatever it would take to “silence” him.

The impossibility of demons fighting against themselves illustrates the irrational pride and envy of the Pharisees in their opposition to Jesus. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is blasphemy against the divine activity of the Spirit, that is, blasphemy against pure goodness. A sin against the Son of Man is more easily forgiven because the Jews did not know much about Christ.

But blasphemy against the Spirit, whose divine activity they know from the Old Testament, will not be forgiven because it comes from a willful hardness of heart and a refusal to accept God’s mercy. Once you label what is in fact the work of the Holy Spirit as the work of the devil, there is no way back. Jesus’ critics painted themselves in a corner. They were blinded to the truth.

Obviously, they had forgotten the words of God to the serpent in the garden: “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.” Jesus makes the declaration knowing that those who blasphemed the Spirit are calling pure, divine goodness, “evil,” and are beyond repentance by their own choice.

With that exchange ended, Jesus is told that his mother and members of his immediate family are outside and wish to see him.  They too think that there is something wrong with him and wish to take him home. However, they have not yet understood his true identity and mission. They are not seated at his feet.

He points to a spiritual family based on obedience to the will of the Father in heaven as being his family. It is a statement that sent shock waves through the audience as it shattered the traditional Jewish concept of family. The scribes and those who knew him, now even his own family thought him mad and labeled him so. That is what we do is not it, when we find ourselves opposed to some idea or someone who differs from us or who does not fit into our scheme of things.

We convince ourselves that what they say or do is simply “crazy.” It doesn’t fit with our way of thinking or what we believe to be true. Thus, we label it as such. Moreover, when we do there is no going back. No way are we going to change our minds. No one or anything will convince us that we are wrong. The division we create is permanent.

And so it was for those who opposed Jesus - what he was doing and what he was saying. He must be out of his mind and those who followed him and believed in what he was doing and saying were just as crazy. There is no middle ground for the world today as for Israel then. Jesus is not a mildly interesting historical figure, as some in today’s world would like for him to be, another label, if you will, designed to neutralize him.

He is either the promised one who ushered in God’s kingdom, or else he is a dangerous madman. Those of us who chose to follow him and proclaim him to be the Son of the Most High God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world must be prepared to face opposition of all sorts, sometimes subtle, sometimes threatening. And we must learn how to respond.

The call to follow Jesus, to listen to him, to model our lives after Him, even if those outside think us crazy, is what matters. The Church in every generation, in every place, needs to remember this and act on it. The gospel, and allegiance to Jesus, produces a division, often an unexpected and unwelcome one, in every group, family, and society.

However, “we do not lose heart…” as St. Paul encourages us in today’s Epistle, “for this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure…”

This is the Hope to which you and I have been called in Him who died and rose again - the hope of glory. God will give us the grace to live by Faith and the Holy Spirit will enable us to do His will if we stick with Jesus, whatever the cost. AMEN+

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