s122g97 8/6/97 Sunday 10 Pentecost 3 Somerton Park

"Here are my mother and my brothers! (Mark 3:34).

This year in the readings for the gospel we concentrate on St Mark. However this has not been particularly noticeable, because for the festive seasons of Christmass, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost, the readings are drawn from elsewhere or are not significantly different in Mark's version anyway. Now as we enter the Sunday's in ordinary time, the Sundays after Pentecost, the differences become more pronounced.

When one reads the gospel stories, one sees that the personality of each of the gospel writers shine through the words they wrote. Matthew sees Jesus as the new Moses, bringing the new and perfect law to his people. Luke sees Jesus as the compassionate healer, a man of prayer and one who made a point of associating with women. John sees Jesus as the Word made Flesh, who came to his own, but they knew him not.

Mark too has his distinctive traits. He sees Jesus as the charismatic preacher and healer. It is less easy to discern Mark's distinctive contribution to the picture we have of Jesus, because so many of his words about Jesus are copied by Matthew and Luke. It is only when we see Matthew's and Luke's contributions, that we can begin to appreciate in what is left, the contribution of Mark himself. Most scholars are convinced that both Matthew and Luke had copies of Mark in front of them when they composed their recollections of the earthly ministry of Jesus.

There are but four passages unique to Mark. Perhaps the most significant of these is the healing of the blind man of Bethsaida. Interestingly Jesus had to lay his hands on the man's eyes twice before his sight was properly restored. After the first time his sight was distorted "I can see people, but they look like trees, walking." he said. (Mark 8:22-26).

Another 'trade mark' of Mark's writing is that he follows one episode immediately with another. Indeed it is the word "immediately" that is the give away. Matthew uses the word "immediately" 7 times, Luke once and John 3 times. Mark however uses it 42 times. So from Mark we get this picture of Jesus going from one scene to another without a pause. The story of Philip the evangelist in the book the Acts of the Apostles is a bit like this too. After he baptised the Ethiopian eunuch "the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more ... But Philip found himself at Azotus." (Acts 8:39-40).

One commentator has said: "for the earliest, simplest and shortest record of "the strong Son of God" who "was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us ... (children) .. of God" we go to Mark's gospel." (A M Hunter Torch Bible commentaries p23) This description might have easily relied on just this passage we read for today's gospel - conflict in the house of Satan.

The message today is about how we look at ourselves, the world in which we live and finally how we look at the overflowing grace of God, made particularly clear in Jesus.

"Who told you that you were naked?" asks God of Adam and Eve. Their disobedience had changed their perception of themselves. Their contact with the devil had made them question God's creation and their own worth - with or without clothing.

St Paul urges us to see beyond the surface: "Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day." (2 Corinthians 4:16). Again it is those forces opposed to God which would make us question the certainty of God's leading of this world and the ultimate victory.

And the scribes questioned Jesus; charging that it was through the forces of evil that he was doing good things. They looked at things that were clearly good, yet attributed them to the devil. Their perception was quite wrong.

So we are bidden to look around us to see and recognise and acknowledge good when we see it.

It seems the way of the world, and therefore by the usual sorts of inference, not the way of God - to see the bad rather than the good, to knock down rather than build up, to criticise rather than praise.

One of the most attractive characteristics of Jesus has always been that he seemed to be able to accept people where they were. True he began his ministry with a call for repentance. But he never focussed that general call onto a particular individual; he never made it a condition of accepting a person. He seemed to relate to each and every person who came to him - other than those with a political or religious agenda. Mark in particular records Jesus taking the children "in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them". Mark 10.16 He was not fazed by the rich young man who had spent his life trying to do the right thing. "Jesus, looking at him, loved him ..." (Mark 10:21). I always wonder if this was Mark himself.

Jesus was always open to other people; there never seems a hint that he considered those he met could be or should be better people than they were. It is this characteristic that is so opposite to that of the scribes of today's gospel reading. So both we as individuals, and we corporately as the Church, may consider this as an attribute worth cultivating.

Jesus called those who were sitting around him, his mother and brothers and sisters. Certainly this statement comes in reaction to the fact that his mother and brothers were outside, calling for him. It has occurred to me that he could have just as easily said: "It is more important to me to continue to talk to these children (or these disciples) here sitting around me now." The words: "children" and "disciple" are terms which do not terms including any notion of equality. But he uses the words "brothers" and "sisters" which encompass equality, friendship and relationship. That he should describe those who listened to him as his "mothers" - those whom respect is due, is particularly pointed.

I point out that when Jesus said this, he looked around "at those who sat around him" - that is - everyone. He didn't point out the disciples who had followed him - those who as Peter once pointed out to Jesus, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." (Mark 10:28). No, the conditions for being called a brother, sister or mother of Jesus are extremely easy - and we are already fulfilling them in their entirety.

So perhaps, in those times when we are wondering if we are doing what God wants us to be doing, when we wonder if we are giving enough of ourselves, and we are anxious that God seems not to be reassuring us as we pray in this way - we need to realise that God has no need to answer. These words mean that we are already doing as much as God would have us do. It is those who are straying far from the right direction that God needs the thunder and lightning!

We too, here today, are doing precisely what those Jesus described as his brothers and sisters and mother, were doing. They too were just sitting and listening to him.

First and foremost, the will of God is for us to be here, listening - simply listening. Listening, not with political or ecclesiastical agendas - but simply listening. If we are simply listening in this way, then in all likelihood God has in fact nothing more for us to do. If God is in fact calling us to do something more, then we will do those things God wants us to do, without realising that it is God who inspires us to do them.

It is the forces opposed to God who will try to shake our confidence in ourselves. Forces opposed to God like the "friends?" who had convinced Jesus' family he was mentally deranged; and the scribes who accused him of being surreptitiously evil. It is blasphemy - an "eternal sin" - to say of someone doing good: "He has an unclean spirit" . It is the forces opposed to God who will try to make us prove to themselves or to others or to ourselves that we are something more than simply children of God.



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