9th June 2024

Lectionary Readings: Gn 3:9-15; Ps 130: 1-8; 2 Cor 4:13-5:1; Mk 3:20-35

Theme: The Family of Jesus

The gospel of today tells two stories about people’s reaction to Jesus in Capernaum. The first is about his family who come to him from Nazareth (Mk 3:20-21 and 3:31-35). This story has been split in two by the insertion of the second story about the reaction of scribes from Jerusalem (3:22-30). Jesus’ family come to him out of concern for his welfare while the scribes come because they want to silence him. Perhaps Mark’s intention in juxtaposing the stories in this way was to show that both people who love Jesus and those who are hostile to him can fail to understand him or his message.

The scribes accuse Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul. The name derives from Baal-Zebub, a god worshipped by the Philistines at Ekron, a city west of Jerusalem, near the coast. The name can mean ‘lord of flies’ or ‘lord of dung’. Probably this was linked to the belief that the god could remove flies responsible for disease. In the Gospels Beelzebub, or its alternative form, Beelzebul, was probably used derisively. Flies were regarded by the sages as impure or demonic, as in the Targum commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:1, “Rav said: The evil inclination is like a fly and it sits between the two entrances of the heart, as it is stated: “Dead flies make the ointment of the perfumer fetid and putrid” (Berakhot 61a). Similarly, German-American rabbi Kaulmann Kohler notes that in the Mishnah we have “A fly, being an impure thing, was never seen in the slaughterhouse of the Temple” (Avot 5). It seems that this attitude to flies was prevalent also at the time of Jesus and underlies the accusation of the scribes, with Beelzebub regarded as the lord of demons.

Taking up again the story of the arrival of Jesus’ family, Mark quotes Jesus as saying that his family of followers is more significant than his natural family. This is in sharp contrast to the prevailing Jewish approach to family, so scholars judge the saying to be authentic words of Jesus – Mark would not have invented them. The centrality of family in Jewish life and worship is witnessed by sayings in the Talmud: “Marriages are made in heaven” (Shab. 22a, b) and “God dwells in a pure and loving home” (ážČid. 71) (Kohler & Guttmacher). In ancient Israel, family predominantly meant blood relationship, though it could include Gentiles who adopted the Jewish faith. Strangers were not to be despised but “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Deut 10.19). Jesus extends the idea of family to include all who obey the will of God irrespective of ethnicity or any other categorizing term.

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Do you see followers of Jesus today misunderstanding, or not taking seriously, the teachings of Jesus? 2. Do you sometimes find this tendency in yourself as well? 3. What might be some of the implications of accepting all who obey the will of God as family?

Bibliography: Kohler, K. Jewish Encylopedia: Beelzebub-Beelzebul (https://www.jewishencyclopedia); Kohler, K. & Guttmacher A. Jewish Encylopedia: Family and Family Life (https://www. Jewishencyclo-pedia); Wessel, W.W. The Expositors Bible Commentary Mark III.C.3 (Grand Rapids MI: 1984).

This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Kevin L. McDonnell cfc, Australia, Bat Kol Alumnus: 2003, 2004, 2005

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