Mad, Bad or God?
Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Sundays
“Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat. And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20–35)
At this stage in his ministry, Jesus is gaining in popularity. He’s been teaching around Galilee - the northern region of Israel where he was brought up - and his authority has drawn attention. The healings which accompany his ministry have brought even more attention, and so he is being followed by a great crowd. The twelve apostles have been called and commissioned, and Jesus then returns to his home (with the crowd).
I think it’s fair to say that his family are not impressed. In fact they think he’s gone mad: “he’s out of his mind”.
These, remember, are the people who knew Jesus best. Those who grew up with him, and are now watching his actions with increasing alarm. How can this Jesus - son, cousin and brother - be saying all these things? What can explain this extraordinary turn of events, a turn of events which has surrounded Jesus with this crowd of followers and a dozen apostles?
How often it is the case that those closest to someone miss the truth about them? Or simply refuse to believe it. If we were to equate Jesus’s family with the church now, who after all claim to have the same Heavenly Father, we often see the same thing. There are many who suggest that Jesus’s sayings are to be taken with a pinch of salt. Those who take his words, reinterpret them, and then proclaim that what Jesus really meant was the opposite of what he said.
It is an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt, and certainly over the years the force of Jesus’s words can diminish. We end up hearing what we want to hear, rather than what he said. We might not dare to say that Jesus is out of his mind, but we might think he is a product of his time. As if the eternal God can be a product of one particular time.
If the reaction of Jesus’s family was that he was out of his mind, the second reaction recorded in the passage was even stronger: he’s possessed.
Whenever a figure arrives on the scene who is hailed as a great spiritual teacher, speaking with a rare authority, the religious authorities get interested. When whispers of Jesus began to echo around Jerusalem, the religious scribes made the trek north to see things for themselves. Here were the great transmitters of tradition, and guardians of the scriptures. Here, also, were those who could be threatened by another teacher.
Ah, these experts said. What you need to understand, they declared, is that this Jesus is in fact possessed by Beelzebul. The scribes tell those who listen that Jesus is possessed by this prince of demons, and that is how he himself can cast out demons. The greater evil is expelling the lesser evil. Jesus, they explain, is a manifestation of evil. Reject him, is the implication. Disregard him, is the insinuation, and listen to us.
Jesus’s response to this, unsurprisingly, is both stark and strong: “all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”. In short: if you declare the Holy Spirit to be a demon you have made such a fundamental error there is no way back. To say that the eternal good is evil, is - literally - unforgivable. The scribes had shut themselves off from the truth, even though they were supposed to be the experts in this sort of thing. They dismissed the saving work of the Spirit in Christ.
And do we not still see those who similarly dismiss Christ, or his teachings? Those who suggest that Christianity is fundamentally an evil, harmful for society? The claim of Christianity is that Jesus is God, and that carries with it the understanding that what he teaches is correct, true and good. To reject Jesus’s teaching is to call into question his deity. To reject Christ is to reject the means by which God reconciles people to himself, to reject his offer of salvation. Which is what the scribes did.
As we come to the end of the passage, the question naturally arises: what think you of Christ? Who is he? What is your response?
Perhaps you view him as someone who is trustworthy in parts, or a good teacher who was made a messiah by mistake. If so, think on this: Jesus made tremendous claims to be God. He dared to teach on his own authority, and forgive sins. Something which only God has the right to do. So what is he? Was he out of his mind or malicious? He worked miracles, something even attested by his enemies. How did he do this? Through the forces of good, or of evil? He is either mad, bad or right.
Jesus is keen to point out that the forgiveness of God is on offer for all except those who presume to equate the Holy Spirit with evil. Maybe you have dismissed Christ in the past or maybe been rather half-hearted in your response to him. Here is the call to embrace him whole-heartedly.
What do you make of Jesus? It’s a question with eternal consequences.