Knowing God’s boundaries begins with knowing our identity

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HOMILY FOR THE 10th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 Readings:  Gen. 3:9-15/2Cor. 4:13-5:1

Psalm:  130:1-8

Gospel:  Mk. 3:20-35

 

One of the biggest reasons, in my opinion, that gets in our way in being a family of faith and genuine Disciples of Christ is a lack of personal identity.  Who are we? Where are we in our lives?  For what purpose are we here?  How we answer those questions helps us in dealing with ourselves, each other and God.  Yet trying to answer those questions is easier said than done.

When we are born, we belong to certain groups.  The first one is the family group:  Our mother, our father, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and so on.  We also become part of a territorial group: A city, county or region.  Each of those groups has their own rules of living, their own vocabulary, their own societal structure or caste system.  As long as the particular norms of that society are followed, then “the world” is safe from any harm.  Any change in direction or any gain or loss within the group would cause a disruption amongst those who purport to be in power and would consider these changes as disastrous to their “status quo” and lose whatever power they think they may have.

When the crowds came to see Jesus, they were so happy to see him come home.  The stories of the he and his disciples’ exploits were all over the land and they were glad that he was “one of their own.”  They heard about his teachings, his healings, his miracles and most importantly, his expelling of demons out of those who were possessed.  All of the things that had been done were so impressive, that their friends and neighbors had to come by and see them.  The Gospel said the crowd was so large that it made it hard for them just to eat.

But not everyone in town was happy that they were there.  When Jesus came home, his family was upset with him and wanted to get him out of there.  This was not the person they grew up with and something was making him act out.  They thought he was out of his mind.  He was doing things that his family, his blood, his tribe just would not do.  He was no longer the son of Joseph and Mary and his family did not like it.

This idea of Jesus being crazy was not just reserved to his family.  Those who “spoke for God” had their own thoughts about the work of Jesus.  The Scribes who came from Jerusalem took the families dismay of Jesus and took it a step further.  They said the only way Jesus could drive out the demons was that he was possessed.  What gave them this idea?  In short, only God could dispel demons.  And since Jesus was not God, he must be possessed, or at least one of Beelzebul’s willing agents.  So, Jesus’ abilities to win over souls were for the sake of Beelzebul and not for the sake of God.

Jesus saw the Scribes for who they were:  religious snobs who used their position to bully others in order to feel superior.  If that superiority was threatened, they would blame others as heretics and blasphemers to bring the people back, knowing that their lack of knowledge of the Scriptures would be to their advantage.  So, Jesus gathered everyone together and gave them a lesson in Civics.  He asks them, “How can Satan drive out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”

Christ explains to them that any conflict that is within a group can damage or even destroy it.  It takes an outsider to destroy a house by first capturing the strong man, the head of the household or king and then plunder the treasure.  No one who is within the kingdom can destroy the kingdom.  Only an outsider can.  So to say Jesus is driving out demons because he is possessed by one is in error.

Then someone mentioned to him that his mother and brothers are outside asking for him to come out.  So again, we see Jesus give a lesson in organizational dynamics.  What constitutes a family?   On earth, Jesus was born within the House of David.  So it was natural that those from that same house would call him outside, particularly if his mother was in the group.  But Jesus saw them as they were.  They were ordinary people that loved him as much as his family.  And more than that, they were the children of his Father in Heaven.  So he reminded everyone that whoever does the will of God is his family.

He was not dismissing the Virgin Mary and his immediate family (as those who view this passage interpret incorrectly) he was expanding the definition of family to everyone who lives their lives in service to God, no matter how much or how little they believe in him or follow his ways.  Jesus expands our definitions of kingdom and family beyond our limited scope into a new identity that brings us all together as children of God.

This message of connectedness is one that was needed then just as much as it is needed now.  In fact, our entire history is littered with moments of our identities as children of God being separated for the sake of ideological purity.  The Gospel of Mark, the earliest written Gospel, was written around the Year 70 A.D., about the time of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.  The Jews believed that they were being punished by God for their disobedience.  It was decided, then that in order to get back in God’s good graces, they needed to rid themselves of all things that were “not Jewish.”  That included all scripture not written in Hebrew, all non-Jewish rituals and, especially, all peoples who do not believe as they do, such as this splinter group who are referred to as “Christians.”

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln addressed the crowd at a convention in Springfield regarding slavery in the country.  He warned the crowd that this country could not be half-slave and half-free.  It had to be one or the other.  To make his point, he invoked Christ in the Gospel today in saying “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”[1]  And today, we are seeing so much venom and hostility against one another that those who were once friends are torn apart because of the slightest difference in belief, no matter what the topic might be.

If there is a time in your life that you come across this sense of angst between you and someone you love and care for, remember the words of Christ today.  He said “Amen I say to you, all sins and blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them.”  Since Christ expanded our identities from citizens of a region and members of a congregation to brothers and sisters of Christ, we are obliged to forgive as well as be forgiven all the times we fall short of the grace of God in our thoughts, words and deeds.

But the one thing that no one can forgive is when we deny the Holy Spirit.  In other words, we deny God.  “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit,” Jesus says, “will never have forgiveness.”  To deny God is to deny our identity as Children of God.  When we do that, then we are truly lost.

God the Father gave to us our identity.  Christ defined it as we matured.  The Holy Spirit showed us the boundaries.  Those boundaries go beyond any differences on how we look, any language that we speak, any groups we choose to associate, any borders on a map and any image of God that is different than our own.  We are the Children of God.  This is our identity.  Let us continue our quest to bring about its fulfillment within ourselves so that others may be inspired to find it as well.

MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YOU DO THIS WEEK

 

[1] “Speech before the 1858 Republican State Convention of Illinois” in The Essential Abraham Lincoln, Hunt, John Gabriel, ed. (New York: Gramercy Books, 1993), p. 115.

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