October 16, 2003
Mark 3

We have another collection of little episodes, which largely advance previously introduced themes. A man with a withered hand shows up at the synagogue on the Sabbath, hoping to be cured. Jesus does so, and the Pharisees start plotting to destroy him.

During the Mark 2 discussion, Lynn and Tom disagreed about whether the Pharisees would really have had cause to plot Jesus' death. The Sabbath violations weren't clear-cut, Lynn said, and a weird reason to try to kill someone. Tom has a point, though, that the technical violations weren't the issue so much as Jesus' general challenge to their power. The very next story in Mark 3, in fact, describes how Jesus went to a lakeside and was mobbed with people seeking his help. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine that someone with this much popularity and apparent supernatural powers who was also taking an un-pharisaical approach to the rules might be seen as threatening.

Despite the fact that Jesus is a lot more public now, we're now given more examples of him suppressing evil spirits who call him Son of God. Though Jesus is a recognized Big Deal, apparently he still isn't letting the whole cat out of the bag.

We then have Jesus appointing the twelve apostles, with Mark's usual perfunctoriness: Jesus calls them, their names are listed, and they're sent out.

Then follow more crowds and more healings. The local scribes accuse Jesus of being in league with Satan, who gives him his healing powers. Jesus demands: why would Satan fight his own agents? A house divided cannot stand. (So that's where that line comes from.) Then comes perhaps the most chilling line in the Gospels:

'Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

This is actually the first time in Mark that Jesus mentions a blanket forgiveness of sins (as opposed to forgiveness of individuals). But he immediately names an exception, and a weird one at that. Of all the sins out there, the unforgivable one is just something you say? I mean, religion doesn't have a first amendment, but this still seems like a very strange priority.

The idea that a sin is unforgivable also raises the scary possibility that once you do it, it doesn't matter what you do afterward, you're still doomed. As I understand it, the Catholic Church has resolved this by saying that you're doomed only if you die still in the sin; so long as you're alive, you can still be saved. That makes sense, although that caveat is rather conspicuously lacking in Mark's account.

Finally, we have a story of Jesus sitting with his followers, and being called by his mother, brothers and sisters. He replies by identifying the crowd as his family, saying, "Whoever does the will of God is my mother and brother and sister."

I was conversing with Rob here earlier today about the concept of church as family, and while it often doesn't work out in practice, the idea is, in fact, right there at the beginning. Of course, the concept of family at that time was a little different; we tend to think of it today as primarily emotional, but back then it would have had more of an element of duty and material interdependence about it, and it would have encompassed a rather larger clan than our little nuclear families of today. So it might not be as sentimental as it sounds like, at first blush.

Posted by Camassia at October 16, 2003 07:13 PM | TrackBack

You bring up an interesting point about the unforgivable sin. I think I go along with the Catholics on that one. I like the concept that so long as there is life, there is hope. Among other considerations, that leads me to oppose the death penalty. I think that the state should not kill an unrepentant sinner and end all hope of salvation for that soul. I think that God does not want to see any soul condemned.
The early church was like family. Christians met in each others homes. They took communal meals. They owned property only communally: that's a family. Today's institutionalized churches are more like businesses than families. If they are small enough, I suppose you could say that they are "family businesses", but that's a stretch for me.
I hope I'm not off topic in these responses to what you've posted. Is the idea to stick strictly to the text, or to discuss things in our own lives and thought suggested by the text?

Posted by: Rob on October 17, 2003 05:28 AM

I mistakenly just posted what follows under "What a long strange trip..." While it's not totally inappropriate there, it was meant for the 3 Mark discussion:

Again, regarding "church and family", 3 Mark ends with the assertion that "whoever does the will of God" is a member of Jesus' family. There was no church at the time Jesus made this pronouncement. Therefore, cannot "church" be taken in its original meaning--a gathering together? Jesus will elsewhere say words to the effect that where two or three believers meet together, he is with them. Does that not satisfy Jesus' definition of both "church" and "family"? And, in that sense, is not even Camassia's weblog a "church"?

Posted by: Rob on October 17, 2003 06:05 AM

There has been a lot of commentary and scriptural scholarship on the question of just what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Some take a very literalist approach -- it means attributing God's works to Satan. One speaker I heard recently described it as the sin of despair, of not believing that God can or will save you. I've been most influenced by those who see it as some kind of a final rejection of God and God's grace. In that sense it is indeed a sin that cannot be forgiven, because it's a final separation from God. (Of course, that still leaves the question of when and how one could make that irrevocable choice.)

Posted by: Regina on October 17, 2003 11:39 AM

I was interested by the mention in 3 Mark that the Pharisees and the Herodians began to conspire against him. I wondered specifically who the Herodians were and looked it up in an encyclopedia. It seems that the Herodians were "an extreme faction of the Sadducees"; not, in other words, a natural kind of ally for a bunch of Pharisees.
I wonder if anybody has any thoughts concerning this rather strange juxtaposition of conspiring enemies--which I don't believe is mentioned in any other gospel. (?)

Posted by: Rob on October 18, 2003 11:57 AM
Post a comment
Hi! I'd love to know your thoughts, but please read the rules of commenting:
- You must enter a valid email address
- No sock puppets
- No name-calling or obscene language


Email Address:



Remember info?