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Has He Gone Out of His Mind? – Mark 3: 20-35

The Second Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 5], June 6/7, 2015
Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA ~ The Rev. Roy Almquist

Our Gospel lesson for today forces us to deal with a number of hot button issues in the life of Jesus. Our Lord has just begun his ministry. He has been preaching, teaching, and healing people at a frantic pace. As a result, Jesus has attracted huge crowds and has formed a strange little society that includes retooled fisherman, a reformed tax-collector, and even a fanatical nationalist … certainly not the kind of people a prudent man would assemble as a posse!

Were that not enough, Jesus is clearly on his way to a head-on collision with the religious establishment … the gatekeepers for orthodox Jewish faith and practice. This seems a crazy thing to do. No one could incur the wrath of the Scribes and the Pharisees without paying a painful price. So we see two groups circling Jesus ~ the adoring masses and the embittered critics.

Mark makes it clear that a third powerful reality confronted Jesus in Nazareth ~ his family. When his mother and brothers learned that he was operating at a frenzied pace with no time to eat or rest, they decided to conduct the First Century equivalent of an intervention, or as Mark has put it in our Gospel lesson: When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

No doubt the strongest force at play was Jesus’ family. Family is a powerful force in our lives.
Our family defines us from the time of our birth.
Our family shapes our aspirations, teaches us how to live with others, and instills our values.
Our family of origin models either greed or compassion, encourages either courage or indifference.
What truth there is in the simple statement … our lives are shaped by those who love us and those who withhold their love. Nowhere is that more clearly modeled than within our families.

Our Gospel lesson is hardly a preaching text for a worship service focused on family values! Rather, we hear Jesus speak harshly concerning his nuclear family … in many ways degrading and rejecting them.

Despite his strident tone, Jesus encourages a deeper understanding of family today, one that embraces a web of relationships that go far beyond genetic origin and tribal protection. In place of the nuclear family Jesus offers an understanding of family that is marked by choices and common enterprise. Thus we have our Lord’s new definition of family as … those who do the will of God … Indeed, whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. [Mark 3: 35]

Let’s back up and imagine this intriguing story from Mark’s Gospel.

On a hot Galilean afternoon a neighbor woman named Rebecca slips into the family quarters at the back of the carpenter’s shop. The head of this household, a woman, greets her friend and immediately Rebecca shares her concern.
Mary, I just saw your boy, Jesus. He is back in town with a large crowd of people. I know you told me that he has become a preacher. Well, he certainly is very different from the boy who used to work with Joseph in the carpentry shop. To see him in action and to listen to him speaking, you would never think he came from Nazareth. He sounds different. He has some pretty funny ideas. People are talking about him. They say he is using black magic and employing the devil’s tricks to win followers. The leaders in the synagogue are furious over the things he is saying. He’s acting like a crazy man! You better do something about him before it is too late!
Alarmed by the counsel of a good friend, Mary quickly convenes James and her other sons. They are soon of one mind … they will find Jesus and bring him back from crazy-town. After all Mary and her family still lived in Nazareth and they needed to protect their family’s reputation from being degraded by Jesus’ behavior.

They obviously had a second, powerful motivation ~ they loved Jesus. They did not understand him, but they worried about him. Rebecca reported that he was not eating or resting. He needed to come home. Let’s bring him here, Mary said. Let’s make sure he gets something to eat and time to rest awhile. He is our kin.

So Mary and the boys sprang into action. They found Jesus and sent a message to him that his mother and brothers wanted to see him. But in a shattering moment, Jesus rejected his mother’s plea. Gazing lovingly at the rag-tag crowd of fellow-travelers that surrounded him, Jesus proclaimed: Who are my mother and my brothers? Here are my mother and my sisters and my brothers; those who do the will of God!

We have all heard the expression, Blood is thicker than water. Well, today we hear Jesus declare that … the waters of baptism are thicker than the blood of family. Certainly we love our families. But Jesus would have you remember one over-arching and defining relationship ~ you are a child of God …a younger brother or sister of Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior. That relationship must never be trivialized but honored and expressed through all that you say and do.

The other critical theme in our Gospel lesson for today is the accusation that Jesus is demon-possessed. The Scribes declare that … Jesus is in league with Beelzebub, and it is by the ruler of the demons that he casts out demons. What a bizarre statement, and yet, is it not human nature to demonize whatever we cannot understand?

To his credit, Jesus does accept the vision that life is a struggle. Life regularly forces us to choose between the power of evil and the power of God. But Jesus is determined that the issue of evil will not become a topic for speculation or debate. No, Jesus takes it on directly … casting out demons, curing the sick, bringing people back from hopelessness. He calls on us … his brothers and sisters …to do the same ~ to confront evil wherever we find it.

Our Gospel lesson, with its emphasis on Jesus’ conflict with his family and religious authorities, is a clear reminder to us that Jesus’ mission was to reconstitute the scattered lost sheep of Israel. He dramatically left his biological family, a family he considered too small, in order to form a new family, based not on blood relationship or nation of origin, but on the clear summons of God to reach across all barriers in order to call home the lost and those without hope. Let us never forget that even while dying on a cross, Jesus reached out in welcome to an outcast, repentant thief, who was promised the gift of Paradise.

Today we could easily ask: Why is Jesus getting so many people angry … his family … the authorities? Perhaps a better question might be … Why are we getting so few people angry? Why has the Church of Christ, his little brothers and sisters, become so passive that we often offend no one?

My hope is that we will rise as one and proclaim that always amazing, often disturbing, and outrageously inclusive love of Jesus. That is our purpose … that is our mission through all that we do in this place and outside these walls in the larger community. May God bless us and empower us to do just that. AMEN.

Washington Memorial Chapel