by Br Julian McDonald cfc

When his relatives heard of this, they set out to seize him, for they said: “He is out of his mind.” The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said: “He is possessed by Beelzebul” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons…” So, Jesus called them to him and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot last. And if a household is divided against itself, that household will not be able to stand,,.whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3: 20-35

Ordinary people across the world are coming out in public to march in protest against the killing of innocent people in terrorist attacks, in the wars involving the Ukraine and Russia, Israel and Hezbollah, and in crimes of domestic violence. Many of the protesters are motivated by their own moral integrity, commitment to social justice, ordinary human decency and/or respect for fellow human beings. In the wars to which I have just referred, so-called leaders try to justify the deaths of innocent victims as “unfortunate but unavoidable collateral damage”. Such attempted explanations no longer wash with people who have a moral compass. Conflict at every level, be it international, political, familial or interpersonal, begins when the wants of a leader, a group or an individual are given priority over the common good or when any single one of us cannot or just will not open ourselves to see and consider the views, the rights and the dignity of others. When self-interest, a sense of personal entitlement or inflexible opinion and belief reign, conflict is bound to ensue. The scribes in today’s gospel came down from Jerusalem with the sole purpose of confronting Jesus. They were so inflexibly wedded to the religious tradition and ritual in which they had grown up, that they could not and would not allow to penetrate their consciousness the freedom, joy and goodness of Jesus’ preaching and actions of mercy and compassion. Across the years, we have come to see that there are some among us who have found in religion and politics fertile ground for convincing themselves that they are authorities on everything from miracles to complex moral issues, and that they have a monopoly on truth and certainty. The scribes who challenged Jesus seem to have come out of that stable.
Can there be any criticism more severe than for one to be told that he or she is guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Yet, Jesus was accusing those scribes of being so locked up in their own certainty that they had become impervious to the inspiration and action of the Holy Spirit, who is constantly at work in our world calling us all to the change that is genuine growth and to the freedom required to embrace the invitations of a loving God reflected in the challenges that come in the good people we encounter every day.
And what do we make of the members of Jesus’ extended family who had clearly been embarrassed by the actions of one of their number, whom they saw as becoming too big for his boots? Just like their neighbours and everybody else they knew, they were longing for the advent of the long-awaited Messiah. The last thing they needed was one of their own challenging their religious traditions and making waves for their religious leaders. As in our day, it was even then more acceptable to label as “mad” somebody close than to admit that he was in full control of his words and actions and clear about the message he was intent on proclaiming. In stating that those who were really closest to him were the people who had come to relate to God in much the same way as he had, Jesus was making it clear that it was in their company that he was most at home.
And that’s the very part of today’s gospel-reading in which we are being invited to participate. The people, who turned up to the house in which he was staying and asked to see the Jesus to whom they were related, had no interest in going inside to hear what he was spruiking. They only wanted him to come outside, so they could quietly usher him away. Our reflecting on their behaviour will lead us to ask ourselves if we want a Jesus who conforms to the expectations of others, or a Jesus who meets our expectations, or a Jesus who invites us to accept him on his terms? The answer we give will determine the calibre of our discipleship.
Jesus’ terms are written large in each and all four Gospels. However, the challenge for us is to explore the Gospels with open mind and heart and to demonstrate a willingness to embrace the change to which they invite us. God created each of us to be free, loving and creative, to share our goodness with others and to respond to God’s goodness reflected in them. Today’s gospel-reading also reminds us that God’s Spirit is ever present in the people we encounter, in creation and in the events that make up each day. It takes a habit of daily pondering on our part to sensitise ourselves to the presence of God’s Spirit all around us. Furthermore, it requires courage and generosity to respond to the Spirit’s promptings.
The outcome of Jesus’ tangle with the scribes is that the God whom Jesus had come to know will not be contained by rules, regulations, rituals and traditions. Moreover, the kingdom of God that Jesus had dedicated himself to revealing and ushering in is for all without exception. It is not a prize for unwavering religious observance, a gift only for the privileged and important, but a way of living and relating open to all, a way of being with one another based on freedom, respect, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness and mercy, a way of living, which we call the kingdom of God into which Jesus himself invites us.