“ Ἐξέστη. “ Mark3:21 “…He is out of his mind.”
Sunday June 6, 2021 Aston PC
Claire C. Jones, MDiv., M.Ed.
Here we are in the “Season After Pentecost,” which carries us pretty much up until Advent, which starts this year on Nov. 28th. This “Season After Pentecost” is the time in the Church year when we are invited to focus on Jesus’ ministry, following one of the first three gospels. (John is held for special events and seasons, in particular Eastertide.) For 2021, Mark is the selection. That’s very appropriate, because the story told in Kata Marcon, “According to Mark” as the original Greek names it, focuses solely on Jesus’ ministry as one of us—fully human, although fully divine. Unlike Matthew or Luke, Mark gives us no birth narrative or genealogy for Jesus; it opens with his baptism by John the Baptizer. The “shorter” (and likely authentic) ending of this gospel is abrupt, contained in one sentence: And all that had been commanded them they told briefly to those around Peter. And afterward Jesus himself sent out through them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation. (Mark 16:8) No road to Emmaus encounter; no doubting Thomas, not even Jesus’ ascension.
Mark is also the oldest gospel, despite its placement as 2nd – a decision made a few hundred years later by a Church Council. Much of the Markan material has found its way into Matthew and Luke, albeit with distinctive spins—these two gospels were written at least a generation after Mark, so their audiences and purposes were different. Mark’s gospel started off as “Spoken Word,” Jesus’ story told and re-told to common people who were quite likely illiterate, but many of whom had met, heard and seen Jesus himself. Many sentences start off with they went, they came, they left, then, again, immediately. This makes Mark’s gospel an edgy, action-packed, almost breathless eyewitness account of the experience of following Jesus. Even when written down, sometime between 55 and 65 CE, it retains the rough, conversational tone of the ordinary country folks of Galilee and Judea, and even Samaria, Gentiles and Jews alike. From the enthusiastic, even awed, reaction of the huge crowds that Mark reports followed Jesus, as in our reading today, these common people clearly considered him one of their own, in Hebrew (and Yiddish) expressed even now as מִשׁפָּחָה mishpucha, family. Mark’s Jesus is reachable. Except, it would seem, to his worried mother and brothers!
The failed intervention by Jesus’ immediate family, ostensibly his blood relatives, is often the focus of sermons, whether based in Mark, or Matthew or Luke, both of which pick up much of today’s reading. I am sure that we all have been rightly encouraged to consider who are our mother and our brothers, so using our Holy Imaginations to reach out beyond our comfort zones and work with, or help, other believers who might not look like us, or agree with us on everything.
But I was drawn to the one line that is unique to Mark: …for people were saying “He has gone out of his mind.” As many times as I have read, studied and dwelled in today’s scripture, I must admit I never thought about that! So I ask, aside from being “one of us,” mishpucha, family—think of Church family- what is it about Mark’s Jesus—by which I mean Mark’s witness to Jesus– that caused people to question Jesus’ sanity? And why should we pay attention to this question?
It’s not just his reachability. Luke’s Jesus is just as reachable, even to women! Matthew’s Jesus (along with Mark’s) is famous for inviting even the little children to come to him.
Although important to my question, it’s not just about Jesus breaking several of the 613 Laws laid out in Leviticus, or even some of the 10 Commandments, starting with #5, Honor your father and your mother… Reporting how Jesus modeled how to follow the spirit of the Law rather than the letter of the Law is common to all the gospels. A few verses earlier in Mark, (2:23-3:6) Jesus’ disciples picked grain on the Sabbath and Jesus healed a man with a withered arm… down goes Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy, the 4th Commandment. If you agree with the scribes’ accusations of blasphemy and consorting with demons and the devil, Jesus would stand accused of breaking the 1st and 3rd Commandments—No other Gods; Taking the Lord’s name in vain. It is significant that Jesus does all of this in the first 3 chapters. What’s more, immediately after his baptism and 40 days in the Wilderness, he announces that “The Kingdom of God has Come Near” (1:15) Perhaps it’s not about keeping or breaking; in the nearness of this Kingdom, Law flows from somewhere else than compliance with stone tablets. From Jesus, the Living Word of God.
As I continued to ponder my question, what is it that caused people to question Jesus’ sanity, my mind took me back to the day I retired from my job to go to Seminary full time. I was not the first person in the organization to do so: my predecessor had quit to become a Presbyterian minister. The CEO was NOT pleased. The CEO, a brilliant, generous, and public-spirited person, who has been awarded many honors for the non-profit organization’s work, gave me THAT LOOK. After an interminable silence the CEO said something like: I just don’t get it. What is wrong with you Presbyterians? You must be crazy to give up a great job that you love, and lets you help others. I thought that was what your Jesus taught. I gave no answer. I was certain that this person, like the many other people who reacted similarly, would not have understood what it means to be called by Jesus: to leave behind all that has defined you to follow his call, just like Simon and Andrew, fishermen who “leave their nets,” and then James and John, who not only leave their nets but “their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men…” (1:16-20) So I just smiled and let the CEO’s comments go in one ear and out the other. Today’s scripture has shown me that I was wrong.
Throughout the gospels, we find a consistency of characters. There’s Jesus, his followers (of which the 12 are a sub-set) and the crowd— a needy and capricious group who often, but not always, act as Jesus’ groupies, who sometimes turn against him, and can seem like they are just there for the show: the audience. Then there’s the Scribes and the Pharisees, often allied with the Herodians, Rome’s flunkies. To use a sports analogy, it comes across as Jesus & his Team (the good guys) vs the Powers that Be (the bad guys.) The Jesus Team’s offense is LOVE; the Powers’ Team’s offense is Law. The crowd cheers or boos; it has no meaningful voice. Well, life is not that clear cut and simple, is it? You can’t always tell the good guys from the bad. Then or now.
But… Three words in today’s text, people were saying, changes the dynamic. Who were these people? Maybe members of the crowd. Maybe well-intentioned law-abiding synagogue-going folks who felt compelled to follow their leaders. Maybe Jesus’ followers. Maybe Jesus’ relatives. Maybe caring, law-abiding people from all these groups…and caring law-abiding people who did not follow any particular religion or follow the crowd. Maybe people just like my former CEO.
It really does not matter who such people were, or are in our time and place. The world that Jesus lived in was as complex and confounding as ours is today. Sometimes, perhaps to keep our sanity, we close our ears to voices that raise uncomfortable, difficult questions. Many people —women, slaves and their descendants, foreigners, people with physical or mental health issues, people who identify as non-binary/LGBTQ and people who just see things differently and question everything, even people of privilege whose lifestyles or beliefs are strange or offensive, were and are voiceless– to people of faith, both those who rely on Law, and those who rely on compassion, who seek to reach out to others, in accordance with Jesus’ last instructions.
Suddenly, with these three words, “those people” are given voice, voices, that the whole Church, as the family –mishpucha–of Jesus Christ, needs to listen to right now. Or else we will remain stuck in a cycle of in-fighting, declining membership, irrelevance, scorned by many. As Rev John Wurster, writing for the Presbyterian Outlook puts it,
“He has gone out of his mind” (3:21) is perhaps really a way of saying that he has gone beyond our minds. He has surpassed what we might expect or imagine. The boundlessness, the inclusiveness, the unwillingness to be limited by regulation or convention, the unrestrained mercy and grace — all of it is beyond what we can grasp. He doesn’t conform to polite society, and he seemingly has little interest in decency and order. What kind of Presbyterian is he?” (www.presbyterianoutlook.org)
As we will see as we move through Mark’s witness to the good news of Jesy=us Christ, in this season following the church’s birthing, the Kingdom of God has come near to all people: all humankind is one family. Mispucha. And that can be messy. Church! It’s time to be indecent and out of order! To join with Mark, and to walk with Jesus, out of our mind-sets and into the Kingdom of God. Amen.