Sermon in CR church: 10 June 2012. Year B, Proper 5. Track 2: Gen 3:8-15, Psalm 130, 2 Cor 4:13-5:1, Mark 3:20-35.
St Paul in the Epistle for today quotes Psalm 116, verse 10 “I believed and therefore I will speak” – the glorious psalm about faith, that begins “I am well pleased that the Lord has heard the voice of my prayer.”
However, it isn’t that psalm which is chosen for today, it is Ps 130, the De Profundis: “Out of the deep have I called unto thee O Lord.” Forgiveness is the point of today’s readings. Just as well, because they say some rather strange things.
The reading from Genesis is all cursing. The serpent is cursed and loses his legs, Man is cursed to work and to sweat, the earth is cursed, so that food can only be wrung from it with the utmost difficulty and poor Woman is cursed not only to have pain in child bearing but even to desire her husband, poor thing.
The two New Testament readings shake people out of the idea, which threatened to dominate 1st century Judaism and is still with us, that only the righteous prosper, that only the rich can be saved, that all poverty and suffering are punishments for sin. The 20th century, post Vatican II “Option for the Poor” was certainly NOT much thought of in the 1st century; that’s why it was Jesus’ priority.
Paul has just realised that even his ever-growing physical disabilities are not the criterion of effective apostleship, however clearly they can be seen. What cannot be seen is far more important. According to Paul, it’s as though our present existence is only a preparation, a mere hiker’s tent, compared to the palace that’s waiting for us.
Then comes the shattering gospel, where Jesus is accused not only by critics from the Temple but by his own supporters and closest family of being in league with the Devil, or at least with the Lord of the Flies. Cornered like this, his response takes the breath away. For all his preaching about forgiveness, here he says there is one sin which cannot be forgiven. Then he specifically renounces his own Mother and family, in the face of the whole culture of his race and time, even of the commandment to honour your Father and Mother, the one with top priority among human relationships.
Nobody really knows what the sin against the Holy Spirit is in the here and now but it is clear that to accuse Jesus himself of being in league with the devil is it.
As for his family ?
We have this picture of a delegation of people surrounding his Mother, coming to put a stop to what Jesus is doing. They have gone along with him as long as they can but now are totally out of sympathy with his ministry. It has begun to look as though he’s no longer just a learned and revered rabbi, teaching some unusual doctrines. He doesn’t even have time to eat. He’s not taking care of himself. Maybe he’s out of his mind. His family’s own status is threatened; they may all be ostracised. They want to take charge of him, even to arrest him.
It is not only that we have heard the words of today’s gospel times over, read in a dignified way in the setting of the liturgy. The leisured English language that’s employed in Biblical translations takes the edge off the urgency of the situation, of Jesus’ words, of his whole message.
“Whoever does the will of God is my Brother and Sister and MOTHER!”
He cannot put it more forcefully than that. That is all that matters. To do the will of God, here and now. Status doesn’t get us in, sinfulness doesn’t keep us out. Doing the will of God is enough to make us more His closest family than that family itself. The disciples were indeed to denounce, to forsake, to flee but they were still closer to him than his family. His family were not really excluded. They were with him on the cross, his Mother too.
That is what awaits us, we forgiven sinners, if we do our best (mostly not very good) to do the will of God. To be with Jesus, accepted as his Brothers, Sisters and Mother. We can’t get much closer than that. Something quite concrete, down to earth, closer than the ineffable Perichoresis of the Three Persons of the Trinity, in a perpetual dance of intimacy and individuality, weaving in and out. It is being welcomed at His own table. Where he is the Host, where He offers Himself to each one of us in the greatest possible intimacy – where we receive His very self, in communion with Him and each other. A foretaste now, of what is to come in all its fullness, when He will be all in all.
Antony Grant CR