Who is Jesus?
Jesus, as presented in the Gospel of Mark, doesn’t make many explicit claims about who he is. Mark was the earliest gospel written and is more focused on the actions of Jesus than theological speculation. Most of the time, Jesus let’s those around him decide who they think he is, and then while they are considering the options, Jesus just keeps healing with power, preaching with authority, and caring for every person who comes to him. Sometimes they figure out who he is by his actions and words – sometimes they still misunderstand and Jesus has to help them out a bit more. In the Mark passage for this morning, there are two wrong ideas about Jesus and then Jesus tries to help the folks out – pointing back to his hearers then and now with a challenge about family.
What do you do with a problem like Jesus?
The passage starts by telling us that Jesus was acting outside of normal expectations. People just didn’t know what to do with him. His family didn’t know what to do with him. They go after him – maybe because they are embarrassed, maybe because they are worried about him. They seem to think that Jesus has lost touch with reality and they are concerned.
Jesus, in simple terms, didn’t talk about God in the ways that people expected in his time. He spoke about God as up close and personal, caring about people – ALL people – in an immediate way. And he acted differently than was expected too – he attracted folks that most people wouldn’t give the time of day and persisted in teaching them, healing them, caring for them. He wasn’t popular with the leadership of the synagogues or temple in Jerusalem because he challenged some of their traditional ways of interpreting scripture and doing ritual acts. For example, he would tell people that they were forgiven, which was a prerogative of the Temple and threatened their place in people’s lives. And he cast out demons – which made authorities suspicious about that kind of power. He thinks differently. He does things differently. That is threatening to the status quo, if anyone pays attention to him.
In Jesus Christ, Superstar, the temple authorities sing, “He is dangerous,” while the “blockheads in the street” are singing: “Hosanna Superstar,. Jesus Christ, Superstar…”
Caiaphas Ah gentlemen, you know why we are here With not much time, and quite a problem here
Crowd Outside Hosanna! Superstar!
Annas Listen to that howling mob Of blockheads in the street A trick or two with lepers And the whole town’s on its feet
All He is dangerous! He is dangerous! Crowd Jesus Christ, Superstar Tell us that you are who they say you are
Priests He is dangerous, dangerous That man is in town right now To whip up some support A rabble rousing mission That I think we must abort He is dangerous
Crowd Jesus Christ, Superstar
Priests He is dangerous![i]
We all know people who didn’t fit the normal expectations. Sometimes, if we know and love them, we call them free spirits, independent thinkers, or say they march to the beat of a different drummer. If we don’t know and love them, we might say they are off beat, off center, or an odd duck.
The verb used in verse 21 literally means “to stand outside of” or “to be beside oneself,” meaning that they thought Jesus was out of his mind. He was indeed off center – if that means having a different center. His center was to do God’s will, which is not the center for most of us, then or now. And because he was different, spoke differently, valued people in ways different than the customs of his time – he was perceived as a threat and accused of being in league with Satan.
Jesus didn’t fit the mold. He challenged expectations, and had a different center. He was perceived as a threat to the community, and dangerous.
It is easy to fall into the trap of condemning or accusing Jesus family and the religious leaders of his time. We see Jesus as Savior and Lord and wonder why they can’t see it themselves. But we do it too.
Before we are too hard on Jesus’ family or accusers, we need to understand the very human dynamic here. When we get comfortable, we resent anyone who challenges our comfort. We all tend to be defensive of our traditions. Even somewhat moldy Christmas ornaments or one-eyed snowmen make their way onto the Christmas tree year after year if the memories they represent are strong enough, right? In the same way, we get comfortable with religious practices that may have lost their meaning and we hold on to the forms for dear life rather like those one-eyed snowmen. (No, don’t argue with me – we have them at our house too.)
We get comfortable with tradition to the extent that we turn a jaundiced eye towards the new things that God might be doing. We feel threatened by new ideas or things that rock the status quo. Even the brightest and best of us can fall into this trap.
Mack. At the time of the Bombing of Bagdad which began the First Gulf War, Mack was the Lay Leader of his church. He took that responsibility seriously. He was there almost any time the building was open. He supported his pastors, whomever was sent. He was involved in the community and had invited many people to worship over his lifetime in that community. And after the bombing of Bagdad, he invited his pastor for lunch to beg her NOT to say anything about the start of the war in the service that week. He knew that every leading denomination except the Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God and Missouri Synod Lutherans had already spoken out against the war. But Mack was afraid that a statement on the war would cause conflict in the church – and so he asked his pastor not to say anything about it. He was afraid – and that prevented him in that moment from saying or doing something that he believed in.
Even the best of us can get comfortable with tradition – afraid of change – and fall in the human dynamic of accusation of anyone that we perceive is rocking our comfortable boat.
Family, says Jesus, are those who do God’s will. Not those who are blood relations, but those who understand us and are united with us in living as persons seeking the kindom of God. Those blood relationships that define our first family are not as significant as those real relationships that grow out of our shared life of faith together.
We understand this on an intuitive level. I would guess that all of us have collected people along the way who aren’t on our family tree and claimed them as family. Brothers, sisters, a few extra grandparents along the way….that’s what we are talking about. And when those other relationships are rooted in a shared living relationship of Jesus and struggling together in the life of faith, they are closer than the brothers and sisters we grew up with. “Faith family.”
Many of you know that this past week I was on a trip to Washington, DC with some of the congregation from Neighborhood United Methodist Church in Maywood. Their hospitality was very gracious and the trip was valuable beyond my ability to explain as we seek to build the relationships among the Methodist churches in our cluster. One of the learnings on the trip had to do with family. I was introduced to a woman named Christine Hedgley – she introduced herself to me as Christine. But everyone else from the church who was a part of the group called her, “Mother,” or “Mother Hedgley.” Her daughter just called her, “Mom,” but everyone else shared stories when I asked of the many ways that she had taught them in the faith, or modeled for them what it means to be a person of faith and conscience in a largely secular and unbelieving world. Story after story of people who claimed her as their “mother in faith.”
Mark 3: 31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
NOT that being a family of faith makes for a perfect family. We have disagreements and clashes of personality just like any other family. But Jesus reminds us, perhaps with an eye roll at the accusation that he, who cast out demons could not be in league with them. He reminds us that a house divided against itself cannot stand – a family divided cannot offer the loving shelter that is needed to all of its members. In fact, a family divided into groups that fight each other will fall apart. And St. Paulwould add a few words of encouragement here – that we have the spirit of faith, and so we do not lost heart. We do not let momentary troubles distract us from the Glory of God. We fix our eyes on what is unseen, what is eternal – an eternal house not built by human hands.
Jesus invites us in this text from Mark to increase our understanding of family. We can claim kinship with those who live in the presence of God. Doing the will of God together will help us connect with our true and deepest selves. Doing the will of God together puts us in a kinship relationship with Jesus, and gives us the opportunity to keep expanding our kinship circle with others who are doing the will of God. We can move beyond the people we lived with in our formative years to those we grow with in faith. Then we find the blessings – blessings of family who understand and love us – blessings upon blessings.
ANNAS, one of the Temple priests, poses the question:
What then to do about Jesus of Nazareth? Miracle wonderman, hero of fools.
Perhaps we have found the answer:
Stop fighting him or denying him for who he is…. Instead Love him. Follow him. Find family – kin – through him. While things aren’t perfect and hard times come, there are blessings upon blessings.