We pick up where we were in Ordinary Time before the special feasts took over. It would take some ingenuity to see how the three readings today fit together. From St Paul we hear echoes of Easter time. But we start at looking back to the first book of the whole Bible.
This section of the Old Testament (starting from the second half of vs 4 of chapter 2 to the end of chapter 3) does not stand alone comfortably. It is a story best read in entirety, and best seen as a ‘story’, rather than revealing a historic beginning to the human race. It has several major points to make, first that God’s intention for humankind was to live in peace and love, in harmony both with nature and with the presence of God ‘who walked in the garden’ where he had put his creatures. Secondly, it describes in vivid details how humanity turned away from that harmony, wanting to experience ‘evil as well as good’, and the results that rebellion had. The unnamed author is writing about the world he/she saw around – and seeing how it was far less than God’s ideal. The story of Adam (‘the man) and his wife shows how people need other people, here shown as husband and wife. It makes the point that men are not to mistreat or ‘lord it over’ their wives, for they are ‘one flesh’. Here we see the Man when he was caught out in disobedience, wanting to blame someone else, a trait we see around us as well, from small children to heads of nations.
The snake may have been used to represent temptation because it was part of the pagan cults that tempted the early Israelites. But the story of this tempter ends with a hopeful promise, which the Church has seen fulfilled in Mary and Christ. A lot of Christian art pictures Mary standing on top of the snake representing the powers of evil.
This is a prayer expressing confidence in God’s forgiveness, and this fits the promise of future redemption. It also stressed the need for patience as we wait for God’s help.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Paul expresses his full confidence in God’s power to bring us to new life, as he did Jesus in his resurrection. Despite our now living through hard times, we are to be patient, and see it as a training ground for what is to come. The image of a tent which we heard last week from The Letter to the Hebrews is again related to the history of Israel as nomads, here as an image of heaven, where in ways we can’t fully describe now, we will have a new and perfect life.
This reading combines two incidents in Jesus’ teaching, the first one of the more difficult ones for modern readers, and a second one that promises us that all disciples are meant to be as close to Jesus as to their own families. It opens with a description how the ways people relate to Jesus brings division as well as harmony. First we see that some members of Jesus’ extended family could not believe his teachings and healings were something they needed to accept and follow. Mark shows us that from the beginning of his ministry to the final end, powerful leaders of the Jewish people opposed Jesus. Observing that Jesus had ‘cast out’ evil spirits from suffering people, they refuse to accept that this shows God working through him. Instead they claim that he acts with the power of the chief of Evil. Jesus uses the name Satan, but the accusers adopt a name based on Canaanite religions, various called Beelzebul or Beelzebub. (Compare the use of the snake in the first reading for how the pagan religions were treated as ‘bad examples’.)
Jesus responds with logic. How could Satan continue if he fights against himself? Then he moves to attack the accusers in words that have been troublesome to many. We see him throughout the gospel speaking in hyperbole – using exaggeration to make a powerful point, and there is some of that here. The ‘unforgivable sin’ does not seem to be mysterious in a way that some have worried they might have unknowingly committed. Rather it is about attributing the work of the Holy Spirit – who comes to people with love – saying that is the power of evil. As long as one refuses this source of love in this manner, they are not ready to repent and it is they who are refusing forgiveness. God has given us the gift of freedom, and we are free to choose. Such responsibility has consequences.
Next Jesus uses the opportunity of his family coming to see him as a way of teaching his listeners about the new kind of family relationship we have through Jesus. In a society where family and tribe have a weight beyond our own, such a message would come as shock, but is also seen as creating a closeness we are to have both with Jesus, and with one another as all are called together and meant to live in loving relationships.