Sermon; 3 Pentecost/Proper 5B; Mark 3:20-35
In last week's sermon I pointed out that Mark's ultimate focus is the cross. Mark is a Passion Narrative with an extended prologue, therefore Mark sees the life of Christ as sacrificial, as a life to be given over for the sins of humanity. Reading Mark in this way is sort of like watching Rogue One – it's a good story, but in the end you know that the good guy dies. So as we journey through Mark in this Season after Pentecost, we need to remember that the ultimate focus of the journey is the cross.
We got the first real indication of this last week during the Sabbath controversies. Remember that on the Sabbath his disciples picked and ate grain, and Jesus healed a man with a withered hand. Jesus had the audacity to challenge how the religious leaders viewed the Sabbath. He had the audacity to point out that they worshiped the thing over who created the thing. He had the audacity to make the religious leaders come face-to-face with their idolization of the Sabbath. And for that they began plotting on how they might destroy him.
We saw last week that Jesus has a different agenda than that of the religious leaders and most of the people. That difference is a focus on doing God's will, not the will of the human system in which he finds himself. That difference is perceived as a threat, and that threat must be silenced.
That difference shows up again today.
First, how did we get from there to here? Between last week's gospel and today's, Jesus goes to the Sea of Galilee with a crowd following. There are so many people that he has to get into a boat to avoid being crushed by the crowd. Eventually he goes up a mountain, appoints the twelve disciples, and then he goes home. And that brings us to today.
After what we can guess is a teaching stint from the boat, and after he appoints the twelve disciples, and after he has been home for a short time, the crowd again comes together in a crush of humanity, so much so that apparently nobody has any room to eat. I'm envisioning Jesus in his front yard surrounded by people not only blocking his entry into the house, but blocking anyone but those who are closest to reach him. I think our bulletin cover for today portrays this image nicely.
Mark doesn't tell us what he was doing, but I'm going to guess that he's healing people physically, spiritually, and mentally. Maybe he's even feeding some who are hungry. Mark tells us the crowd was so large and crushed-in that they couldn't eat. Maybe Jesus managed to get them into some orderly configuration and he's managed to feed them. Just imagine this for a moment: Jesus is healing crowds of people on his front lawn while also providing those in need of food with stuff from his own refrigerator.
Apparently some people have said that he has gone out of his mind; so when his family hears this, they go out to try to restrain him. The word choices here are interesting. A variety of translations use either restrain, get him, lay hold of him, take him home, take charge of him, or seize him. These are also the same words used of the demoniac restrained by chains, of the servants and son in being seized by the tenants in the parable of the absentee landlord, and of Jesus at his arrest.
And in talking about being out of his mind, other translations also use mad and beside himself. Also words used to describe demoniacs and people with evil spirits.
Mark is making a very clear statement that any actions deemed not normal, or controversial, or plain different, are not to be tolerated. People exhibiting those behaviors are to be seized, bound, and controlled. But Mark is also making clear that actions based in God's economy, not ours, will cause people to look at you funny, even to the point of trying to restrain you and accuse you of being mad, insane, or out of your mind.
Again, we do not know what Jesus was actually doing because Mark doesn't tell us. But we can make a good, theologically educated guess. We know that Jesus doesn't harm, he heals. We know he doesn't starve, he feeds. We know that Jesus doesn't withhold, he builds up. We know that Jesus operates from abundance, not scarcity. With this in mind, I don't think it's a stretch to imagine Jesus teaching, healing, and feeding a crushing crowd gathered in his front yard.
What might happen if we operated the same way? What might happen if we operated by God's rules of healing, feeding, building up, and general abundance instead of by society's rules of management, discouragement, and scarcity? We know what happens when we offer free food once a month; what if we were to do that weekly, or daily? What would happen if we opened up a free medical/dental clinic? What would happen if we provided portable showers, laundry services, and pedicures to the homeless of Hagerstown? What would happen if we followed one church's example and built several small shelters for homeless women to be placed in our parking lot?
Would we have a crush of people as described in Mark? Would we be seen as mad by those around us? Would people attempt to restrain us for exhibiting compassion and serving those in the greatest need? Would people call the authorities and have us seized?
It's hard to say. But I would be willing to bet that doing God's will to heal, feed, clothe, and shelter would be met with some resistance. It is that resistance by those in power and those who are “normal” that will get Jesus crucified. It is following God's will and not society's desires that will get us in trouble. If we're not careful, we just might find ourselves on the verge of being seized and restrained.
But that's the point of today's story. How is it that people in both Jesus' day and ours view helping those in need as a problem to be stopped? Why do we see assisting people, healing people, feeding people, as a crime? And why is it that those who try to help are met with resistance?
And there are those who do see these things as crimes. Churches have been told to stop feeding the homeless because they don't meet municipal health codes for kitchens, food, or occupancy restrictions. I had dinner with a friend from seminary last week and she told me about a proposed joint education project between two churches that would serve underprivileged children. A group of (white) neighbors banded together, hired a lawyer, and got the project stopped on the basis of zoning laws; never mind that there were other similar programs in the city. And why did they stop it? Because they didn't want “those people” in the neighborhood.
I obviously don't have the answers to all those questions I just spouted off, but I can keep asking the questions. When will the kingdom of God appear on earth as it is in heaven? Maybe not until we are willing to be as out of our minds as Jesus was. Until then, the cross continues to loom in our future.