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The 10th Sunday Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

In order to understand today’s Gospel, we need to know the background about how the ancient Mediterranean world perceived families and individuals because Jesus’ family is involved in the event of today’s Gospel. When Jesus comes back home with His disciples, a lot of people visit Him and Jesus’ family can’t even eat. And His relatives are upset about Jesus and come to Him. The Gospel says, “When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Why do they say this? Why are they so harsh to Jesus?

The ancient Mediterranean world was a high context culture. I don’t know if you are familiar with this term. In the culture, context is more important than message inside context. By context, I mean like family, social relationships, and business world that surround individuals. Therefore, in this culture, family and society are considered more crucial factors than individuals. For example, when someone does something wrong, people think his or her family has responsibility. Or people are prevented from doing bad because they are afraid of putting their families or communities to shame. On the contrary, families are very proud when their family members get honored. Most Asian countries fall into this category. I grew up in a culture like this. I don’t want to disgrace my family by wrongdoings. The Middle East society in Jesus’ time was a high context culture. On the other hand, there is a low context culture where individuals are more important than societies and personal expressions are explicit because context is not in common. Most Western cultures are categorized into the low context culture.

Therefore, some Western readers probably don’t understand the relatives’ response to Jesus’ devotion to God’s will. The readers might say, “Do they call Jesus crazy?” “with relatives like that who needs enemies?” The relatives actually said in the Gospel, “He is out of mind.” The critical Greek word used by the writer of Mark’s Gospel is existemi, which unfortunately means “nuts” literally. They thought Jesus was mentally ill. He was casting out demons, taking on the usually unassailable Pharisees, upending centuries of religious traditions, and saying the Kingdom of God was at hand. You all know, back then, people thought that those who were ill physically or mentally were all cursed by God, the consequences of sin or of being possessed by demons. That’s why the scribes even came from Jerusalem and said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “By the prince of demons he drives out demons.”

By calling Him names, the relatives wanted to distance the family from Jesus’ ministry that they thought was abnormal or bizarre. Through this accusation of the relatives, the family could separate themselves from the shame that they thought Jesus was producing. And furthermore, the life of the one who caused shame could be saved from the society, and the family was also able to maintain honor since honor and shame were the important public matters in ancient Middle East, the high context culture.

Let’s take a look at Jesus’ answers to the relatives’ furious blame and the scribes’ sly decoy. Jesus prefers to defend Himself by revealing the source of His power of healing. “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” And then He aligns Himself with God, a higher and more powerful authority than Satan. Jesus breaks their attempt to see Jesus’ ministry as a part of evil spirits’ works and, instead, He warns them that their denial of the works of the Holy Spirit can be sin against God’s will.

Actually, we see this kind of sin in today’s first reading. The reading shows us how original sin came into the world. And then it also shows us that our ancestors blamed each other and denied the responsibility and put themselves against God’s will. Adam passed the responsibility to Eve, Eve passed that to the snake, and the snake got the punishment from God, which is called the First Gospel: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” In this Bible passage, we know how the denial of God’s will causes serious sin: being kicked out of the eternal relationship with God. The scribes in today’s Gospel also accuse Jesus of blasphemy. It is their denial of the Holy Spirit’s works. Jesus sternly warns them that their attempt won’t be forgiven if it’s against the Holy Spirit.

After taking away the opportunity of sin, He re-establishes the new concept of the family. This last segment of the Gospel is Jesus’ reaction to the efforts of His relatives, including His mother and brothers, to spare His life by declaring him crazy. “Who are my mother and my brothers?...Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus redefines family. He goes beyond the traditional family and opens a new horizon. In the new family, more valuable than bonds of flesh and blood is true obedience to the will of God. Such people constitute Jesus’ new family. Jesus is of course saying something much more inclusive about the nature of the new Christian family. The family is built on obedience to God, grown in love, strengthened by peace and justice, and completed by God’s unbreakable and eternal Kingdom. The family shares Jesus’ body and blood at the new table that Jesus made anew. It doesn’t matter whoever they may be. The door is open to everybody who obeys God’s will. We all are invited to this new family. All we need to join the family is to say, “Thank you, Lord. I came here to do your will.”

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