Year B: Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Blasphemy of the Scribes

Mark 3: 20-35

He came home. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind. The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.” Summoning them, he began to speak to them in parables, “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. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand; that is the end of him. But no one can enter a strong man’s house to plunder his property unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can plunder his house. Amen, I say to you, all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an everlasting sin.” For they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” Jesus and His Family is mother and his brothers arrived. Standing outside they sent word to him and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus does not avoid impurity (lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors) but engages it. When have you noticed yourself avoiding people who manifest signs of impurity, the sick, the poor and the addicted? What causes this avoidance in you?
  2. Have you ever noticed situations where people see “good” and call it evil, they think they are opposing evil but in reality, they are opposing the work of the Holy Spirit? How do you discern good from evil?
  3. For Jesus, family is much deeper than blood relations. Anyone who hears his teaching and engages in the work of the kingdom is his mother, brother or family. Do you think treating others as Jesus does is essentially, doing the will of God?
  4. Do you have bonds with anyone that run deeper than with a family member? What makes a relationship particularly close for you? Explain

Biblical Context

Mark 3: 20-35
Mary M. McGlone CSJ

Today’s Gospel portrays a pretty shocking two-part scene from the life of Christ. Beginning with an incident unique to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ family comes to the conclusion that he’s gone crazy. Their evidence? He’s gained fame as an exorcist and a healer who will touch women; he lays hands on lepers, eats with known sinners, proclaims forgiveness, disregards pious fasting practices, and provokes the wrath of religious authorities by openly violating Sabbath restrictions. He does all of this while preaching repentance and announcing that the kingdom of God is at hand.

At the very least, this extraordinary behavior put Jesus in danger and reflected very poorly on his kin. But the family’s opinion paled in the light of the scribes’ verdict: “He is possessed by Beelzebul.” (According to the Dictionary of the Bible, Beelzebul could be translated as “Lord of the Flies” and began as a contemptuous mispronunciation of the name of a Philistine god later designated as a demon.) Jesus’ response to both his family and his adversaries explained his activities and the plan he has in mind.

First of all, Jesus confronts the scribes’ charge of possession. Refusing to credit the mysterious Beelzebul, he deals directly with the insinuation that he’s satanic. He calls the scribes’ bluff asking, “Can Satan drive out Satan?” The obvious implication is that the worst thing of which he might be culpable is instigating a coup in hell. He then goes a step further and outlines his mission. He explains that through his practice of exorcism he’s binding up the devil and plundering his possessions.

While the cleverness of Jesus’ replies must have brought some delighted chuckles from the onlookers, the interchange is not without real anger. That emotion stands out in the harshest statement Jesus makes in any of the Gospels: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never have forgiveness.”

This statement seems terribly out of character from Jesus who ate with sinners and called everyone to conversion. What is this unforgivable sin? According to the Jesuit theologian Juan Luís Segundo, “The real sin against the Holy Spirit is refusing to recognize, with ‘theological joy,’ some concrete liberation that is taking place before one’s very eyes.” In other words, the unforgivable sin is the refusal to acknowledge that God is at work in what gives life, heals or frees human beings.

The scribes in this incident, like the Pharisees in John 9:40-41, refused to be open to new revelation. Assuming the role of God, they declared that Jesus could not possibly be revealing the divine because, in spite of the life-giving works he performed, he did not fit their categories or follow their interpretation of the law. Their blasphemy was that they had divinized their theology. As long as they maintained that position, they kept themselves safe from any disturbance by the Holy Spirit and the possibility of change and forgiveness.

This interchange was hardly finished when Mark tells us that his mother and brothers had arrived to take him in hand. Mark makes it very clear that Jesus was in a house with his disciples, and the family was outside that circle when they arrived and were asking for him. In response, Jesus broke another cultural norm and said that his family would no longer be defined by blood, but by behavior, by the heart rather than heritage.

The issues of family and the judgment of the scribes were distinct facets of the same theme. Jesus assumed the freedom to reinterpret religious practices in order to fulfill their life-giving purpose. He opened up kinship and community thus making relationship with him a matter of commitment rather than ethnicity.

Jesus’ entire ministry was about making the kingdom of God available to everyone. He believed in the future and the ongoing inspiration of the Spirit and thus could not be controlled by the past. The community he was forming had no limits and therefore, no one had special access to him except through accepting his message and putting it into practice.


By Rich Akins

Life is filled with challenges and often consumed with activities, whether at work or school. Many struggle to find time to even share a meal with their families. Time is at such a premium that often the important relationships in our lives take a back seat to the pressures of the day. If a crisis should appear — an illness in the family, loss of a job, a struggling marriage — the challenge can become unbearable, straining already tenuous relationships.

It was no different for Jesus and his followers. In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ young ministry is faced with many of the same challenges that face us. Jesus has just appointed his apostles, 12 men of varying backgrounds and life experiences — men who will soon understand the demands of discipleship, the sacrifices they will be called to make. Eager to learn from Jesus, they must have wondered what they had gotten themselves into in those early days.

Jesus and his apostles are challenged with a growing group of people putting great demands on their time. They are confronted by the non-believers, the naysayers, those who fear Jesus. And, they are challenged by what the demands of discipleship will do to their personal relationships, their relationships with family and friends.

The scene in today’s Gospel is one of chaos, of crowds so demanding the disciples find it impossible “even to eat.” Jesus’ family, concerned with how his actions reflect on them, claim he is out of his mind. The scribes, fearful of the growing crowd, say Jesus himself is possessed.

And how does Jesus respond? As he so often does, with a parable; with a story meant to guide the listener to look at life from another perspective. To look at life’s challenges, not from society’s norms, but from the perspective of the Father’s love, one that calls us to a deeper understanding of what it means to be his children. Jesus says “if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25). How do we act when faced with challeng or stress in our life? How do we treat others, especially when our own belief system is questioned? Sometimes when challenged, our actions are self-centered, borne out of stubbornness, selfishness, hurt or fear. We fail to act with compassion. It is at these times that we feel our “house” begin to collapse, to fall around us.

If we are to live as Christ taught us, to love one another, to help each other journey together, our house must be built with Christ at the center — built with humility, forgiveness, understanding, love. To build our lives, our house with anything less, is to invite disaster. To live our lives with these virtues is to invite others to participate in the saving grace of God’s love. It allows God to transform others by opening our hearts to the Spirit. By living our lives with love, we invite others to become our brothers and sisters, our family.

“Family” was everything during Jesus’ time, defining status, wealth, security. Without family, a person was lost and without any support. Yet Jesus redefines what family is, who family is. In the closing verses of today’s Gospel, Jesus presents the greatest challenge to his followers then and to us: “Who are my mother and my brothers? And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mark 3:33-35).

Jesus reminds us of this as he hung upon the cross. Looking down from the cross, he said, “Woman, behold your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother” (John 19:26-27).

A friend of mine once remarked that being a Christian is not an insurance policy against anything bad happening. What it does mean is that Jesus will always be with us. Challenges, too, will always be with us. But those challenges help us grow in our faith, give us strength for the journey, help us grow closer to our Lord.