Texts: Genesis 3.8-15; 2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1; Mark 3:20-35
That’s why I love Genesis. It is a written record that for as much as we have grown and advanced over the course of human history, we are still fundamentally the same, and that sameness is why we still need God. What Adam and Eve both do in this story is called “scapegoating.” The idea comes from Leviticus; every year, the people of Israel would take a goat and ritually place upon it all their sins and disobediences, and drive it into the wilderness. As it wandered away, it would take all their guilt with it. The trouble with scapegoating is that it is exactly as effective as you think it would be. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the snake, but in the end, the consequences are the same. The fruit has still been eaten, God’s commandment has still been broken, and paradise is still lost.
And yet, we still do it. We cast blame and point fingers and make accusations, because in spite of its futility, it is surprisingly effective at making us feel better. The whole point of this story is how stupid it is to cast blame; and yet, for hundreds of years, people used Adam’s accusation against Eve to prove that all women were inferior to men. The goats may be different, but we still lay our blame on them and drive them into the wilderness. Thanks, Obama!
Mark tells the same story. Jesus’ family show up to “restrain” him because he is shaming them by defying the religious authorities and all the rumors that are flying around about him reflect poorly on them. “It’s not our fault,” they say, “It’s Jesus! He’s out of his mind!” The scribes do the same. He is a threat to the religious power structure, so they start sowing rumors that his power comes from Beelzebul, another name for Satan. If they can just discredit him, their position will be secure.
If it were any of us in Jesus’ position, we would likely react the same way Adam or Eve reacted: we’d find somebody else to blame. Jesus not only refuses to play the game, he tells us why: “Can Satan cast out Satan? A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He dares to call a spade a spade and name this scapegoating, blame-casting game what it is: demonic. Even when done in God’s name, as the scribes do, this is not Godly work; is a tool of evil. Can evil be overcome with more evil? Can you truly fight fire with fire? It makes no sense, and yet that is what we instinctually do: we use demonic power to fight against demonic power. The situation is untenable. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
The Crusades are a perfect example of this. At the time, people believed they were waging righteous war in God’s name against the evil Turks, attempting to do God’s will and drive them from God’s holy city. In reality, the Christian crusaders were as bad as the Turks: murdering, pillaging, razing cities and destroying fields. Now, with a thousand years of distance between us and the wars, we can see that; but at the time, those soldiers absolutely thought they were doing God’s will by attacking the Turkish scapegoats.
We still do this. Sometimes it’s still with all-out war, bombing and assassinating terrorists. Sometimes it is less dramatic: we blame our economic problems on the opposing political party or politician, we see alternate lifestyles as a threat to our own, we even go so far as to blame people within our own communities, congregations, or families for whatever is going wrong. Maybe it’s that black-sheep uncle who is always showing up drunk to the family reunion, or that person who likes a different style of worship than I do. Maybe it’s Britt, or Jen, or Pr. Beigert, or maybe it’s the person or people who we think made them leave.
You see, this is a real problem for all of us, too; not just Adam and Eve or the scribes. Jesus is making a point here that assigning blame and holding grudges accomplishes nothing constructive: a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Jesus doesn’t just make this point with his words. In spite of his warning, the scribes and the Pharisees and the Herodians continue to conspire against him, trying to find some way to remove him so he would no longer be a threat. And they did, they won! They not only had Jesus killed, they had him killed in such a way that there could be no question he was anything but a deviant criminal. They got exactly what they wanted, but Jesus still managed to show them what their victory was worth. They killed him, and he got back up.
Jesus shows us, not just with his words, but with his very life—and his very death—that scapegoating, blaming, accusing are useless. They can’t get us what we want, they can never heal division or take away fear. He frees us from the endless cycle of blame and guilt by showing us that the only thing that brings peace is God’s kingdom, God’s will. Our wills inevitably drive us to do the very things that divide and destroy us, even when we start with the best of intentions. This is why he says that whoever does the will of God is his family—his mother, his sisters, his brothers. God’s will is what unites us; not our own imaginary divisions of families, political parties, denominations or ethnicity.
How do we do God’s will? If it were a simple answer, we wouldn’t need the whole Bible to show us what God’s kingdom looks like. It’s something that we have to keep struggling to learn and to apply to our lives. What is simple is where to look: Jesus comes to reveal the kingdom to us, the Holy Spirit fills us so that we might be able to understand it. The kingdom is here, right under our noses. At the font we are welcomed as Jesus’ family, and at the table we are nourished with God’s love and grace. This community of faith is where we figure out together what it means to live as citizens of God’s kingdom, and that is why it is so important for us to put aside all those things that divide us and focus on the love and will of God that unites us.
It’s not an easy path to follow. We make mistakes and we suffer setbacks. Feelings are hurt and relationships are damaged, sometimes irreparably. The good news is that, through it all, God is with us. In spite of all that we have been through together as a congregation, we’re still here, we’re still together. In spite of all the pain we have experienced, healing is happening, progress is being made. That’s no accident, and it certainly isn’t because we drove out the scapegoat. Jesus is at work here, teaching us how to live as one family in God’s kingdom.