Sunday, June 7, 2015

"Family Values" Mark 3: 20-35

A quick summary of the first few chapters of Mark shows just how crazy things had become: Jesus casts an unclean spirit out of the synagogue; this was witnessed by many, and soon they were lining up to be healed by him.
He heals a leper. He heals a paralytic. He heals a man with a whithered hand. Very soon, Mark’s gospel reports that “a great multitude from Galilee followed him;… they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea,” and even from the regions “beyond the Jordan” and around Tyre and Sidon. There were so many people coming to him, according to the scripture, that he was in danger of being crushed. This was a wild, frenzied crowd.
And then, the scripture says, he went home. Maybe he thought he’d get a rest from the crowds there, a little break; but no. The crowd followed, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat.
If it was a formal meal that they were trying to eat – a deipnon, a symposium, in the triclinium – perhaps the crowds were parading through the open doorway, reaching through (and perhaps climbing through) the open windows, filling the triclinium, begging Jesus to heal them, to save them, to make them well.
Word spread quickly. If this was in Nazareth, it’s not that big of a town. Perhaps he was in a nearby town, not Nazareth itself, but even so, word travels. His family heard about it: his mother and his brothers. In conversation, they asked, “What should we do? People are saying he’s gone out of his mind.
Perhaps you remember the scene in the Tim Allen movie “The Santa Clause.” Scott Calvin is the new Santa, but he’s not yet sure he wants to be the new Santa. Christmas is a long way away, and he’s still trying to be plain old Scott Calvin.
One day he’s sitting on a park bench. A little girl walks up to him and quietly shares her Christmas list with him. Moments later, the camera pans back, and all the kids from the playground have come over and are in a line, waiting to talk to the man they believe is Santa Claus.
And because he is Santa Claus, Scott Calvin reluctantly allows each one to sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. His family arrives, sees what’s going on, and thinks he’s gone crazy. Out of his mind. And they are determined to put a stop to it.
In that scene from the movie, it’s a couple dozen kids in a line, waiting patiently. In Jesus’s case, it was a great multitude – a huge crowd – and they weren’t quiet and orderly. No wonder his family felt they had to intervene. They leave and set out to retrieve him.
But they are too late. Already what they feared was taking place. Some scribes from Jerusalem had arrived and had begun leveling accusations against Jesus. “He has Beelzebul!” they say.
Who is Beelzebul? Beelzebul – or Beelzebub – is a Semitic deity; according to Alyce McKenzie, Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, the name literally translates to “Lord of the Flies.” In the Bible, it becomes another name for “Satan.”
In the Old Testament, Satan is a character who sometimes works with God, like during Job’s temptation. But by the New Testament, Satan has become God’s adversary. Anything contrary to God is attributed to Satan.
The scribes accuse Jesus of coordinating with Satan. After all, if Jesus has authority over the demons, he must be in partnership with the ruler of the demons. “He has Beelzebul! By the ruler of demons he casts out demons!”
Jesus responds, “That’s ridiculous! How can Satan cast out Satan? You have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit!”
And the conflict escalates, a foreshadowing of what is yet to come… see how quickly things are getting out of hand?
Everyone is going crazy. The crowds. The scribes. And Jesus. His family appears to be the only sane people in the entire scene.
They arrive, and try to make their way through the crowd. “OK, everyone just calm down. Just take a step back, everyone take a breath… Jesus? Jesus, can you come out here, please? We need to talk to you…”
Jesus doesn’t hear them, but word makes its way to Jesus that his mother and brothers have come for him.
Imagine that! Thousands of people, crowded around Jesus, most looking to him as a divine healer (some arguing that he’s an agent of Satan), and then a voice calls out, “Hey, Son of Man! Hey, Holy One of God!”
“Your mom wants to talk to you.”
What is it about our families? We can’t live with them, yet we can’t live without them. They love us, we love them, and yet they drive us crazy.
Jesus, without missing a beat, responds: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, my mother.”
This scene doesn’t appear in the other gospels. Mark was the first gospel written, and it’s there, but it’s not there in Matthew, Luke, or John. It’s as if these other gospels, written later, were embarrassed by this story, so they left it out.
I don’t know if that’s the reason Matthew, Luke, and John left this story out, but there is certainly much here to be embarrassed by. First, there is the accusation by his own family that Jesus has gone out of his mind. That’s what his family was told, and they evidently believed it, because they set out to retrieve Jesus and bring him home.
We don’t want a Savior who appears to be out of his mind. Better leave that story out.
Then there’s Jesus’s comment about his true mother and brothers. That just doesn’t play in to the whole “family values” thing very well, does it?
Although, come to think of it, Jesus isn’t really a very good model for “family values.” Aside from this present scene, he has also called disciples to follow him. In many cases they left their families to do so. They cast off their resonsibility to care for their aging parents. James and John were fishing with their father, and just left him there, holding the nets, and followed Jesus.
Peter left behind his mother-in-law – presumably he also left behind his wife – and it seems likely that his mother-in-law wasn’t in the best of health when he did so. Not long after, Jesus and the disciples returned to Capernaum, Peter’s hometown, and Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, so at least there’s that. But make no mistake: following Jesus can be hard on your family.
This is even true today. Those who truly follow Jesus commit a great deal of time and money to the church’s ministry. Many of you commit a great deal of time and money to the church’s ministry. That’s money you could be using to take your family on a vacation…
I know families who were called to missionary work. Seventeen years ago, when Ethan was just a few months old, we visited some friends who had taken their whole family to live in the Dominican Republic, including little children, to serve as missionaries there. I’m sure there were some rewarding experiences there, but I’m also sure there were some challenges.
I think one could argue persuasively that people who follow Jesus today are out of their minds.  And yeah, I’m looking at all of you, and you all are looking at me, and yet I stand by my statement.
But what does it really mean to be crazy, to be out of our minds?
Is it crazy that we work long hard hours so we can afford to buy a nice home, even though we don’t spend much time in our homes because we’re working such long hours?
Is it crazy that we work long hard hours so we can afford to buy the clothes we need for work and the car we need for work, even though if we weren’t working or were working other, lower-paying jobs, we might not need the extra clothes or car?
Is it crazy that so much of our life we spend “going through the motions,” never stopping to ask why we do what we do?
Is it crazy that today we join great multitudes and wild, frenzied crowds just to get the best deals on new electronics? Or is that somehow “sane,” but following Jesus is still “crazy?”
Maybe it’s this whole world that is crazy, and the way we live our everyday lives…
And where do our families fit into all this?
There are no easy answers. I know people want easy answers from their religious leaders. Four spiritual laws. A 30-second prayer that somehow grants salvation.
But the issues go much deeper than that. The questions are much deeper than that. Sometimes the best thing to do is not rush to answers, but just let the questions dwell in our hearts and our minds.
What is crazy? What is sane? And how can our families help us as we wrestle with these questions?

For now, just let the questions dwell in your hearts and your minds…

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