I want to talk about being ‘cracked’ and how inevitable and how life saving that is;
and I want to talk about companionship and who’s at the table. And I have some questions about insiders and outsiders.
So craziness, being ‘cracked’ and companionship
- these are all in our gospel today. But before I come to those three things, I want to point out a couple of things about the structure of today’s reading, because I think that Mark is talking to us through the very structure he has chosen. For Mark makes use of two clever literary devices to tell today’s stories. The first is something technically called ‘intercalation’, that is to say ‘a story within a story’. So what we have here is the story of Jesus’s family and their relationship with him under stress, interrupted by the story of Jesus’s conflict with some scribes sent from Jerusalem. When a writer puts one story inside another like this, it serves to intensify both, and to create parallels and comparisons between the two. By doing this, Mark is also able to create what is called a ‘chaistic’ story, that is to say one that has a shape that goes in and then comes out, a bit like an hourglass. Think of it as going A1, B1, C, B2,A2. So what we have is the first bit about the family, then a bit about the scribes, then Jesus parables and teaching, then another bit about the scribes and finally another bit about the family. What does that do? Well it helps us know that the really important bit, the bit that makes sense of the rest and transforms it, is in the middle, - not surprisingly in Jesus parables and teaching. This is the inside teaching, aimed at making the outsiders the insiders. You will see what I mean as we go along...
Let’s let that question hang and move along in the story. Jesus house is besieged by those banging at the doors and windows to be cured, so that those inside cannot ‘eat bread’. Our translation has lost the word ‘bread’, which is a pity because the Eucharistic overtones of Jesus being in the ‘house’, but unable to eat ‘bread’ are important. Jesus is being mobbed a bit like a modern pop idol and on one level it is not surprising that family and religious authorities are concerned. The scribes suggest he is demon possessed.
What motivates both family and scribe? Their own ‘cracked’-ness; their fear, their insecurity. No doubt his family were fearful for him and embarrassed for themselves. The scribes were fearful of losing power and control. But Jesus is on to the ridiculousness of their premise straight away. For Satan to oppose himself would be self-destructive. Rather the force of evil and sickness is being opposed by one stronger than it as the parable says, capable of tying it up and that is how people are being cured.
Those accusing Jesus are themselves, ‘houses divided against themselves’. Now of course that is always going to be true. It is part of the human condition to be cracked and broken in various ways. It is part, as we saw last week, of what it is to be an earthen vessel, through which the light of God nevertheless shines. Our brokenness is not the problem. It is our assumption of wholeness and rightness that causes grief. God can forgive and restore everything – except where we refuse to let the Spirit breath through our cracks.
Which brings me finally to companionship, the sharing of bread. In Jesus time the Jewish people were under the pressure of Roman occupation. Faced with heavy taxation, frequent enslavement as a result of financial loss, and denigration of language and culture, they had turned in on themselves. Theirs was a faith committed to hospitality and welcome for the stranger, but they had lost their way. I leave you to draw your own comparisons with our current government’s policies on reconciliation and refugees. The desire of Jesus family and religious leaders to bring him safely back inside, flew in the face of what he was experiencing, the crowds clamouring to get close to him; outsiders, the sick and the shamed longing to be welcomed in. Jesus’s response to his family can sound harsh to us. Yet he was not speaking against his family. What he was trying to do was to expand the notion of those it was right to share bread with. When we become part of Jesus family there can be no insiders, no special people. All are welcome – we are companions together regardless of difference and brokenness. When we manage to stand outside ourselves, our small fears and concerns, a different understanding emerges, where the Spirit has room to move.
That may sound crazy; yet the restoration of our cracked world is founded on this one crazy idea – that we can all break bread together, and no one is to be left outside. In the name of the one whose love is stronger than fear and hate, even Jesus our Saviour. Amen.
by Penny Jones, Pentecost 3, Sunday 10 June 2018