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Daily Devotional • January 17

Ed Little
Open Our Eyes
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 3:19b-35

19 and Judas Iscariot, who handed him over. 20 Then he went home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

31 Then his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

No one seemed to understand Jesus. “When his family heard [about the crowds], they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Religious leaders too failed to grasp the significance of Jesus’ ministry of teaching, healing, and exorcism. “The scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of demons he casts out demons.’” Their rejection was so strenuous that Jesus mocked their theology (“Can Satan cast out Satan?”) and denounced them as blasphemers. In ascribing Jesus’ work to Satan, the scribes condemned themselves.  “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said grimly, “can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

It is tempting, at two millennia’s distance, to succumb to a spiritualized version of “chronological snobbery.” Had we lived then, we would have known better. We would have recognized Jesus for who he is: the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Incarnate Word. But is that really the case? As we  scorn the blindness of those who knew Jesus, are we unaware of our own? Many of us can recite the Nicene Creed. We certainly don’t believe that Jesus is out of his mind or has any Beelzebulish connections! And yet our vision is cloudy, our sight imperfect. We often fail to recognize Jesus in the world around us, in our brothers and sisters, and in our own hearts.

The double rejection in this passage — first by Jesus’ family, then more dreadfully by religious leaders — reminds us to pray for the gift of sight. We stand on equal footing with our forbears in the first century, in need of “salve to anoint [our] eyes so that [we] may see” (Rev. 3:18). John Newton’s hymn, at once familiar and ever fresh, captures the challenge: “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.” Lord Jesus, open our eyes, restore our sight, and surprise us with your presence.

The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II was bishop of Northern Indiana for 16 years after serving parishes in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Joaquin. He is the author of three books; most recently: The Heart of a Leader: St. Paul as Mentor, Model, and Encourager (2020).

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Trinity Episcopal Church, Asheville, North Carolina
The Diocese of Owo – The Church of Nigeria 
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