“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot last”
“The Divided Kingdom”
by Flor McCarthy SDB, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies – Year B, Dominican Publications 2011, pp. 227-228.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Genesis 3:9-15
The Lord God called to the man after he had eaten of the tree. ‘Where are you?’ he asked. ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden;’ he replied ‘I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.’ ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ he asked ‘Have you been eating of the tree I forbade you to eat?’ The man replied, ‘It was the woman you put with me; she gave me the fruit, and I ate it.’ Then the Lord God asked the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman replied, ‘The serpent tempted me and I ate.’
Then the Lord God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this,
‘Be accursed beyond all cattle,
all wild beasts.
You shall crawl on your belly and eat dust
every day of your life.
I will make you enemies of each other:
you and the woman,
your offspring and her offspring.
It will crush your head
and you will strike its heel.’
The serpent in today’s story originally stood for the disturbing experience of temptation. The link to the devil came much later in Old Testament history (see Wisdom 2:24). Temptation is all around us, taking many forms. Our spiritual maturity is always a question of our capacity to handle temptation, how to practice humble discipline in our daily lives and make choices that grow out of oneness with God. When we yield to temptation we fall prey to various shades of darkness and, like the man and woman in the story, hide from God. The story, in the seed of the woman, foretells the coming of Christ and his deliverance. That is why it has been called the proto-gospel. Are we open to what God wants to do in our lives? Are we open to the healing and liberating power of repentance and forgiveness?
LORD, Adonai, when the man and woman in the story met the serpent temptation entered the human situation and has been there ever since. Help us to recognise the sources of temptation in our daily lives. Some of them arise in our inner worlds, some in the world around us. And when we feel shame and guilt we try to hide from you. And yet, regardless of the temptations, your presence makes this a holy place. Help us recognise the traces of your loving presence in what is no longer a garden of Eden. May we learn to praise you in it day by day and stop hiding from your transforming love. Now and forever. Amen.
Psalm – Psalm 130: 1-8
One of the seven penitential psalms, our responsory today has a wonderful history in the prayer life of the Church. Over time, it came to be known as the De Profundis. It is the heart-felt cry of an individual caught in the snares of sin and death, and the cry of a people waiting in hope for liberation and salvation. The psalm assures us that forgiveness is with us in the faithful love of the Lord who does not mark our sin. What are the depths? Well, we are again in the domain of temptation. We are drowning in distress. We are being overwhelmed by troubles. We are prisoners of our own guilt. Do we trust God? Are we ready to throw ourselves lovingly into his compassionate presence? With the LORD is kindness, and with him is the fullness of redemption. Never doubt God’s forgiveness!
LORD, Adonai, how often I find myself lost in dark places. How often I feel tempted and give in to anger, frustration, envy, bitterness and other destructive forces like them. Out of the depths I cry to you. Hear my cry from help! With you is the fullness of forgiveness and mercy! I trust in you! My soul trusts in your living word! Each day I wait for you in hope. You are full of goodness and kindness! You are the living spring of salvation! Redeem me from all my iniquities. Now and forever. Amen.
2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
As we have the same spirit of faith that is mentioned in scripture – I believed, and therefore I spoke – we too believe and therefore we too speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus to life will raise us with Jesus in our turn, and put us by his side and you with us. You see, all this is for your benefit, so that the more grace is multiplied among people, the more thanksgiving there will be, to the glory of God.
That is why there is no weakening on our part, and instead, though this outer man of ours may be falling into decay, the inner man is renewed day by day. Yes, the troubles which are soon over, though they weigh little, train us for the carrying of a weight of eternal glory which is out of all proportion to them. And so we have no eyes for things that are visible, but only for things that are invisible; for visible things last only for a time, and the invisible things are eternal.
For we know that when the tent that we live in on earth is folded up, there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home not made by human hands, in the heavens.
Paul reminds us that resurrection has implications for each of our lives in the world today. Are we open to resurrection life? This is our faith: Christ’s victory over sin and death is at work in the world through the lives of those who accept his living word. Like Paul, we can all choose to live for the glory of God regardless of what is happening in our lives. Think of the opposition Paul suffered. Think of its effects on his health and wellbeing. Like Paul, we too can embrace the power of grace strengthening our inner being regardless of events that disturb and disappoint us. Are we ready to live in the resurrection of hope?
Lord, Jesus, we believe that the Holy One who raised you will raise us also with you and bring us with you into his loving presence. Everything is for you and in you grace overflows in lavish abundance. In that rich place of grace, you invite us to sing and dance our praise regardless of how people treat us in the world. You teach us that words of faith have power. We acclaim you, regardless of events that disturb and disappoint us. Touch us again with resurrection life. Touch us again with hope. Touch us again with your blazing light and your awesome glory. Help us live for the glory of God. Now and forever. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 3:20-35
Jesus went home with his disciples, and such a crowd collected that they could not even have a meal. When his relatives heard of this, they set out to take charge of him, convinced he was out of his mind.
The scribes who had come down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘Beelzebul is in him’ and, ‘It is through the prince of devils that he casts devils out.’ So he called them to him and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot last. And if a household is divided against itself, that household can never stand. Now if Satan has rebelled against himself and is divided, he cannot stand either – it is the end of him. But no one can make his way into a strong man’s house and burgle his property unless he has tied up the strong man first. Only then can he burgle his house.
‘I tell you solemnly, all men’s sins will be forgiven, and all their blasphemies; but let anyone blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and he will never have forgiveness: he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ This was because they were saying, ‘An unclean spirit is in him.’
His mother and brothers now arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ He replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’
Our gospel today offers us two stories that Mark puts together in typical fashion. What links the two stories is that both groups misunderstand Jesus. First, we have the story about Jesus’ family coming to take him away. Then we have the conflict with the scribes about Beelzebul. Then there is the question of the sin against the Holy Spirit. What is it? It means to deny that Jesus’ works are the acts of God’s awesome power at work in and through him. Each one of these aspects of the gospel point to misunderstandings of who Jesus is and the God-given meaning of his life. We live in a time of deep misunderstanding on many levels, social, political, economic, religious, moral. What do we do when we find someone else’s understanding unacceptable? How do we treat people who think differently to us? How do we pray into such realities? How do we cope with disputes and conflicts? How do we handle insults, slights, snubs or other expressions of negative feelings? How do we handle the temptation to doubt that is all around us? Do we seek to live compassionate lives as Jesus did? Do we seek the Spirit’s gifts of wisdom and understanding? Do we understand that words of faith have power?
Lord Jesus, your family and friends did not understand why you left home and moved to Capernaum. The scribes did not understand the source of your power to heal and liberate people. They did not recognise the action of the Spirit in your life. We, too, misunderstand you and doubt you. We, too, get you wrong. We, too, live in times of deep misunderstanding and scepticism, in times of conflict and violence. Help us be compassionate with those who do not understand you, who think differently from you, or reject you. Help us to handle insults, slights, snubs and other expressions of negative feelings. Teach us how to pray into all such situations, for you are there. Send your Spirit to us with new gifts of wisdom and understanding and encourage us to use them. Make us your family. Help us walk in the Father’s presence with you. Draw us into your breathtaking Oneness that our words of faith may share your power. Now and forever. Amen.
From the beginning of his preaching, Jesus had to face unbelief and contempt not only from his enemies, but also from his acquaintances. The gospel does not pass over the somewhat surprising fact that there was a time when the opinion the family of Jesus had of him was no better than that of his most bitter detractors! The enemies of Jesus thought he was possessed by demons, while his family believed he was not completely sane. When we are reminded of this fact we may be perplexed, even shocked. There is no doubt that in the gospel account the family of Jesus and his enemies come out badly. Yet the episode, which reflects a real situation in the life of Jesus, has something to teach us.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
The Gospel tradition scarcely mentions the family of Jesus when it speaks about his public ministry in Galilee or during his last week in Jerusalem. Surprisingly, this incident in Mk 3, 31-35 (cf also Mt 12: 46-50; Lk 8, 19-21), the most explicit text, is told in a way that indicates a clear break between Jesus and his family. His relatives (3,20-21) and his enemies (Mk 3: 22-30) were united in the initial rejection of Jesus and his mission, some out of sincere concern for the person of Jesus (3.20), and others, with cold theological reasoning. Only his disciples remained with Jesus, the twelve he had just called to stay with him and to be sent on mission. He shared his teaching and his feelings with them.
The episode takes place in three scenes: the theme of the rejection of Jesus appears already in the first scene (3,20-21). It has all the appearance of being a creation of the evangelist but it is difficult to accept that such a harsh anecdote was invented, had it not been found in the tradition (cf Jn 7,5). In the second scene (3,22-30), Jesus defends himself from the accusation of connivance with Beelzebul with a speech in the form of a parable (3,23-27). It ends with a solemn statement (3, 28-29): there is no forgiveness for those who do not accept him. The third scene (3.31-35) concerns the authentic family of Jesus: Mark received this episode from the tradition but he elaborates it in some way to make it fit his narrative (3.32a.34a.35) and to highlight the position of Jesus, who, in the presence of his natural family, declares that he has another family.
Jesus has come down from the mountain to the house, from being with God to being with people. The crowd continues to need him and gather around him. His activity is tiring but his zeal for the cause of the kingdom is commendable. However, severe criticisms arise (3,21-22): “He is beside himself.” “He is possessed by the devil”. These criticisms are coming from his own relatives, who are willingly supported by the masters of the law of Jerusalem, the bastion of the wisdom of Israel. The family members were motivated by concern for Jesus when they saw that he did not even have time to eat (3.20). The experts, however, diagnosed that he was possessed as a way of hiding their own malice and obstinacy. The fact is that neither his relatives who knew him, nor the experts who knew the Scriptures, understand him. The family were to be replaced and the scribes condemned without remission.
We who are listening today to the words of Jesus should not look down on the people who opposed Jesus and argued with him, nor should we envy his relatives. If today’s disciples commit themselves to being with him and listening to his word in order to do God’s will, they become members of his family. Anyone who wants to know and do the will of God is in conformity with the human will of Jesus. It is not from the flesh but from will the will of God that the children of God are born. Jesus sees them as brothers, sisters … and mother.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
We may be surprised to know that Jesus met widespread opposition right from the start of his public ministry. The doctors of the law of God, the wisest and most learned men of the time, said that he was possessed by the devil. His relatives, his own family members came to the conclusion that he was out of his mind. Obviously neither they nor the doctors of the laws understood what he was doing, let alone the reasons he had for doing it. It may seem incomprehensible that some believed he was possessed, but it is even more unpardonable that his own family thought he was mad. Friends and enemies alike must have seen in him something abnormal and inexplicable.
Jesus was not speaking to a chosen group but to all the people who took him seriously, who crowded around him and sat to listen to him, people who sought to do the will of God. It is true however that he distanced himself from his family members and his opponents. From his family members because they thought they had some claim on him and from his opponents because they believed that he was serving Satan. Presumably this was based on what they knew about God. Both groups were his adversaries because they were opposed to God’s plan.
The cause of Jesus, God and the kingdom, led to a general misunderstanding.
His preaching, accompanied as it was by miraculous actions, made unbearable demands. His behaviour, though typical of a man of God, seemed scandalous: he was filled with God but out of his mind. He was so preoccupied with the building of the kingdom that he had no time to take care of himself. The people, those who knew him as well as strangers, felt uncomfortable in his presence, not knowing what to expect.
They reacted by attacking him, either because they could not understand what Jesus was doing or because they were unable to defend themselves from him. They were afraid. His radicalism made them feel insecure. Having the kingdom of God as his only mission led to Jesus being misunderstood even by his own people who knew him and loved him.
We should not be surprised if Jesus continues to disappoint us, if his way of acting is strange to us, or if his demands are unbearable. That’s how he was from the beginning and that is how he continues to be today. And this was not only towards strangers who did not love him, but even more so for those who thought they knew him better, for those who lived with him, his friends and family. Today as in the past, the disciple of Jesus knows that he is following a Master who is still slandered by learned people who do not know him and misunderstood by others, those close to him, the members of his family. Today as in the past, fidelity to Jesus requires the overcoming of the scandal that his person raises wherever he works. We should not be surprised, therefore, that we all have to deal with contempt and ridicule, misunderstanding and slander at times. If his own mother and brothers did not understand him, what can we expect from a society like ours that is ceasing to be a Christian?
We cannot expect a better fate.
If we remember that Jesus, our Master, was taken for mad, and that our Lord was accused of serving the devil, it should help us not to give too much consideration to what others say or what they think of us, just because we are his followers and for no other reason. Furthermore, we must expect the misunderstanding of our people if we are truly Christian. If we live our lives according to Christ, we will have to face ridicule, disdain, mockery and lack of understanding from others, whether they are strangers or our own people. We will have to start losing respect for the world that has stopped believing, in order to start feeling the security of our faith. We must become insensitive to what others might say about us, including those who love us most, and become more sensitive to what Christ our Lord wants from us. What others say or think should not worry or annoy us. Our concern is only for what Christ thinks of us and what he wants to tell us. Paying attention to him and his words will free us from our fears and will obtain for us his fraternal love.
It may surprise us but we must take seriously what the Gospel tells us, that Jesus publicly denied his relatives. Instead, he identified his disciples as his authentic family. Faced with those who came to him full of mistrust and pretensions, with requests and doubts, Jesus chose to bond emotionally with those who were living around him, listening to him. He promised his best attention to those who paid him the most attention. In doing so he disowned anyone who believed he had a claim over him either because he knew the law of God well, or because he was a family relative who had always known him. Jesus will not take care of those who have always lived with him and known him but do not listen to the word of God that comes from his mouth and refuse to put it into practice.
Members of Jesus’s Family if we share his project
We should not overlook the fact that this stance of Jesus was public and was addressed to his closest family. It is not enough to be scandalized by the apparent severity of Jesus towards his mother and brothers, as if those words were not addressed to those who, today as in the past, come to Jesus expecting to be heard, just because they went to see him when they felt like it. Many of us are sure of being able to count on Jesus because we belong to his narrow circle, but if we do not make an effort to remain among those who accompany him and listen to him always, then one day we will be publicly disowned by Jesus. If he once dared to disown his own family, why would he hesitate to disown us? Could it be that we Christians today, like those in the gospel passage, think we are part of the family of Jesus, with a claim on Jesus just because we come to him when it suits us?
So, those of us who want to be considered as belonging to the family of Jesus should be among his faithful listeners. There is only one way to grasp the affection of Jesus, and that is to do the will of God. Anyone who does the will of his Father is loved by Jesus as a brother. Jesus recognizes his family among those around him. Going to look for him from time to time is no guarantee that we will reach his heart. Listening to him, doing everything to serve him and satisfy his Father’s will – this is how we become members of his family. Like Mary, everyone who does the will of the Father will earn the affection and attention of Jesus and membership of his family forever. If Jesus had the audacity to renounce his family in public and to adopt as family members all those who listened to him and obeyed him, then it is within our reach to adhere to his will and be loved by him. There is only one way to get hold of Jesus’s affection and that is to do the will of his God. The family of Jesus is made up of the servants of God. Mary knew this very well and it cost her a lot!