Mark Ch. 3:20-35: A Queer Reading
All my life, I have felt like an outcast. It’s a common story. As a child, I was small and often timid or awkward. I didn’t really fit in with the popular crew, the nerds, or the jocks. I couldn’t hit most things involving a ball and even though I loved musical theater, I could only score a spot in the chorus. I sort of floated around throughout the years, never really having a permanent circle. I grew up in an area outside Philadelphia that wasn’t quite city but also wasn’t fully suburbs either. I had a family that was supportive but complex. I moved frequently between white friends, Black friends, moderate white churches and conservative Black churches—never really feeling fully understood by either. And when I finally came out as queer in seminary, I felt myself in this other weird space – part of the LGBTQ+ community, but also part of the Christian Church, the latter having caused the former irreversible pain. But I was excited to come out – it was one of the first times in my life where I finally felt at home in my body and everything started to make sense. And yet, coming out as bisexual/pansexual also felt like “in-between” space, where I struggled so often with whether or not I was “queer enough.” It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have had my share of difficult conversations and unfair assumptions. In many ways, my body has felt like a holding space for contradictions and a site for disconnection.
And when I finally came out as queer in seminary, I felt myself in this other weird space – part of the LGBTQ+ community, but also part of the Christian Church, the latter having caused the former irreversible pain.
It’s why no matter where life takes me, I’ll always connect to Mark’s Jesus. He is targeted equally by religious authorities & government officials. In 3:21, His own family is ready to “restrain him” because they think he’s completely out of his mind. The verb “restrain” used here is also used to describe Jesus’ arrest and John the Baptist’s (Meda Stamper, Working Preacher).
Mark’s Jesus is this eccentric ass freak who has only humble beginnings in a small, boring town. Jesus is conceived by an unwed teenager & no man in sight. He is a faithful Jew, but can’t seem to follow the rules. He is a teacher, but loves all the wrong people. He holds a wealth of wisdom but grew up in poverty. He is a man, but challenges systems of power & gender norms of the day. Jesus is inherently “queer” in that he exists outside of what is normal or acceptable.
Jesus is inherently “queer” in that he exists outside of what is normal or acceptable.
He is a healer, a seer, a revolutionary who comes to upend demonic evil & whose very body causes uprising, as folks are forced to unlearn & confront oppressive ideologies.
The people’s violence toward Jesus is so profound that religious leaders begin to criticize, accuse, and undermine his authority. Somehow, they observe Jesus’s justice work and it only causes them confusion and outrage. They watch demons yelp as they are defeated and cast out of people and communities and systems. They watch Jesus bulldoze through death-dealing norms and lead people to freedom.
No one can deny that Jesus has power running his veins. But the religious leaders can only explain it by suggesting that his power is corrupt or perverse because he does not have behave the way he is expected to. They condemn him with the most horrendous accusation they can think of. They accuse him of having demons & being an accomplice to Satan.
And while, Jesus doesn’t say much in response, he does call them out for their inconsistency—how could Satan fight against Satan? And how could a house that is divided against itself still stand? In other words, how could evil simultaneously lead to liberation? How could demons bring someone to wholeness?
The evidence is right there —people who encountered this miracle working Jesus begin to experience true healing in their bodies, minds, and spirits. It’s a beautiful image to ponder. Like, maybe, when people encountered Jesus, they began living as their true, authentic selves again. People begin loving who they want to love and living without fear again. People begin feeling at home in their bodies and free in their gender identities again.
Like, maybe, when people encountered Jesus, they began living as their true, authentic selves again.
How many among us have been accused of evil when we were bending the arc towards justice?
I can’t tell you how much I’ve been told I am not a real pastor because I’m a woman or because I’m queer. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been told I am leading people to hell. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that by calling out white supremacy and homophobia, I am too angry and causing division. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told I’m not holy enough or actively working against God rather than with Them.
In a world where books about race are being banned and queer folks are accused of having a family killing agenda, I relate to this Jesus. I think about people like MLK Jr. and Malcolm X who were killed because they were a threat to the status quo and dared to point people towards a better world. I think about the queer people who have lost their lives because they had the audacity to be their true selves.
In a world where books about race are being banned and queer folks are accused of having a family killing agenda, I relate to this Jesus.
And yet, if we listen carefully to the story, the people who accuse Jesus put themselves into a dangerous position by committing an unforgivable sin. They see hints of inclusion and progress and they mock and laugh at it. In fancy, theological terms, they commit blasphemy; they oppose the movement of the Spirit. They mistake the work of freedom for satanic evil. People who are so committed to their biases and prejudice can never live in the land of living because they cannot even recognize it for what it is. Because at the end of the day, we need each other to thrive, and if some of us are crushed under the wheels of injustice, none of us can live whole. Racism undermines all of us. Homophobia, transphobia, and biphobia make a fool of us all. Mark’s Jesus teaches us that when we stand in the way of justice, we put our own selves on evil’s path. Some of us know people like this. Maybe we find ourselves opposed by our own churches, universities, or local legislators. Unfortunately for many, it’s their own families.
People who are so committed to their biases and prejudice can never live in the land of living because they cannot even recognize it for what it is.
And yet Jesus does not leave us hanging out in isolation. By keeping to his mission, Jesus continually draws in crowds from the outside. Outcasts and oppressed people find him irresistible. People watching him get free simply because he is true to himself.
Though he himself cannot seem to bring his own family along, by the time we get to verse 31, Jesus begins “redrawing the lines of family and belonging” (Matt Skinner, Working Preacher). In the midst of all the drama, his family comes looking for him and he responds, “Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
This was a revolutionary concept in a culture where family of origin meant everything. It determined everything from wealth, respect, responsibility, status, protection, and identity. And yet, Jesus’ life reorders even family relations to be less about biology and more about alignment and shared values. Against this backdrop, Jesus is one of the first to popularize what chosen family really means.
And yet, Jesus’ life reorders even family relations to be less about biology and more about alignment and shared values.
I am grateful to have a family that loves and supports me, but I know that not every queer person does. In addition, the family I do have looks little like a “traditional family” – my family is made up of the people who believe who I say I am and who show up for me and my cause. My family is one that transcends blood ties and genetic makeup; it is made up of love and friendships and legal marriage bonds, and most of all, intentional choices to accept one another & stand together through whatever this hellhole of a world throws our way.
So, if your family looks anything like mine, if your body looks anything like mine, if your identity is anything like mine, if the world’s response to you is anything like mine, I think we all have more in common with Marks’ queer Jesus than we ever realized before.
Rev. Brooke Scott (she/her) is a queer Black woman originally from the Philadelphia area. She is beginning her first ordained call in Delaware as both the part-time pastor of Church on Main and as the Presbytery’s organizing pastor in Wilmington stationed at Hanover Presbyterian Church. She holds both a Master of Divinity from Duke University and Master of Social Work from the University of North Carolina. Brooke is passionate about helping people heal religious/spiritual trauma. She believes in using faith to liberate and empower historically marginalized communities, as well as transform unjust systems. In her free time, she enjoys reading books, writing, listening to music and podcasts, collecting vinyl records, practicing yoga, and traveling.