“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” Mark 3:35
We think about today’s Gospel reading with four questions about being lord.
The first question, an odd-sounding one is “who is the lord of the flies?” Saint Mark Chapter 3 Verse 22 tells us about the scribes, the experts in the Law speaking against Jesus, “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.'”
The word the scribes use for the Devil, the word they use for the ruler of the demons is Beelezebul or Beelzebub, depending on which translation is read. It is a word that captures a sense of the Devil’s fall from grace. Baal-zebul was a title given to Baal, one of the deities worshipped by the people before the Israelites arrived. Baal was the deity turned to by the people in those times when they had turned from God, it meant “lord of princes”. “Beelzebul”, the word used by the scribes is also a name that Jesus uses for the devil, it means “lord of the flies” Calling the Devil “the lord of the flies” is a mark of contempt, it shows how little regard they have for the Devil.
If Jesus calls the Devil the lord of the flies, then as followers of Jesus we should always regard the Evil one with contempt, never imagine that the power of Evil can match the power of God.
The second question is who was the lord of this world?
Jesus speaks plainly of the reality of the Devil in this world. When the scribes accuse him of using the Devil’s power to cast out the Devil, Jesus asks in Verse 23 “How can Satan cast out Satan?” Jesus says to his listeners, in Verse 26, “if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.” The fall of Satan is something still to come, something that will mark the end.
In Saint Luke Chapter 10 Verse 18, Jesus describes the Devil as the one who has fallen from his place with God,, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”. “Satan” is used as a title for the Devil on more than thirty occasions in the New Testament, it means the adversary, the one who is to be overcome. “Get behind me, Satan!” says Jesus to Peter when Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem to face what will happen.
As Jesus approaches the final hours before Calvary, he tells his disciples that the Devil is ruler of this world, but the Devil is about to be defeated. “Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out”, says Jesus in Saint John Chapter 12 Verse 31. Then, in Saint John Chapter 14 Verse 30, he says, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me’. Jesus regards the time as the Devil’s moment, in Saint Luke Chapter 22 Verse 53, he says to those who arrest him, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”
Satan is the lord of the flies and he is darkness; he was the lord of this world, but his power has been destroyed. He was the lord of this world, but is lord no more. As Christians, we can take to heart the words from the First Letter of Saint John Chapter 4 Verse 4, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
The lord of the flies, the lord of this world; the third question is who is lord of eternity?
In Saint Mark Chapter 3 Verses 28-30, Jesus tells the crowd, “‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.'” It seems a strange thing to say, is it the case that there are some things that cannot be forgiven, even by God? What is the eternal sin against the Holy Spirit?
If we look at the conversation that Jesus has had, we see that forgiveness is not possible because the people themselves reject that forgiveness. Jesus allows people to make a choice, no-one is compelled to believe, if they were, it would not be faith. Looking at the conversation, we see the scribes have recognized that Jesus is one with supernatural powers, but they are determined these powers are not from God, “he has an unclean spirit”, they declare. The Holy Spirit is one who leads people into truth, but, if seeing that truth, they then reject what is in front of them, what more is there that can be done?
The scribes would have expected that there was a greater power than the one before them, one who would vindicate them in their judgement, but they have rejected the greatest power. The scribes have seen Jesus’ power but because Jesus has not fitted into their ideas of what he should be, they have denied he is from God, sinning against Jesus, the Father who sent him, and the Holy Spirit who had shown them the truth. There is no further place of appeal, rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit, they have rejected the one who is the eternal power, the one who is the lord of eternity. The sin is eternal because that is the choice they have made.
Are we sometimes like the scribes? Do we want a God who fits our definitions? Are we in danger of knowing the truth but deciding we do not want to know? Do we turn away from the lord of eternity?
Who is lord of the flies? Who was the lord of this world? Who is lord of eternity? The final question is who are the Lord’s family?
Family ties and duties to one’s family were very strong, people had a duty to care for family members, even if they did not agree with them. The Law set out one’s duty to one’s family members and Jesus himself taught about those duties. The Fifth Commandment, to honour one’s father and mother, was one to be taken with the utmost seriousness. It is against the background of the solemn duty people were expected to show to their parents that we need to read the words of Jesus about the people he regards as his family.
Saint Mark has told us that Jesus and his disciples were being mobbed by the crowds. In Chapter 3 Verse 21, we are told, “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.'” Mary and Jesus’ brothers were fulfilling their family duties; it would not have been easy for them to go to face the crowds. They reach the house and they ask that Jesus come out to speak to them and the people said to Jesus in Verse 32, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” Remember how much the Commandments, at the very heart of the Law, would have meant to those people, remember how seriously they would have taken duty to parents and look at Verses 33-35, “And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.'”
Many of the people listening must have been shocked at what Jesus said, it seemed to overturn everything they might have expected. It is a measure of Jesus’ love for his people that he is prepared to set aside his natural love for his own family, the tradition in which he has grown up, and the ways of his community, in order to say that people who do God’s will, whoever they might be, are his family.
Jesus is prepared to count us as members of his family, but being part of his family is something we have to choose for ourselves. When we see what Jesus does for us, are we prepared to someone he counts as a sister or brother?
Four questions for us to answer about who is, who was, and who will be lord.