The past few weeks, for me, have been “crazy busy,” and I know the same is true for many of you. Some of you have traveled for weddings and graduations and many other family occasions; some have traveled to get your vacations in before your favored destinations become really crowded. For some of you, school sports have been winding down and all those end-of-the-season tournaments, and there have been school spring awards programs, and concerts taking place.
Some of us have been busy with other things – like doctors’ appointments and moving or caring for loved ones. Some of us have been putting in gardens or putting boats in the water – or both.
For me, the month of May began doing all those things you do when you know you’ll be away for a while. Then there was travel, and upon my return prepping for our wonderful Pentecost and Confirmation celebrations.
My travels took me first out to Denver for a preaching conference, then to Connecticut to see our daughter graduate from Yale Divinity School, and help her move. A week later I was packing up again, to go to the Delaware Maryland Synod Assembly. Whew!
It is no wonder, I suppose, that I have felt like the month of May was gone practically before I knew it had even arrived. I have felt, at times, harried and flustered, in the whirlwind that was the month of May.
Jesus, too, has been “crazy busy,” involved in a whirlwind of his own, as he has traveled all around Galilee. His travels make mine – and yours – seem like a trip to the corner store. We return to the gospel of Mark this week after several weeks spent in the gospel of John. As we read the gospel this morning, there are some who might even question whether Jesus himself is harried and flustered.
While this morning’s text comes from just the third chapter in Mark’s gospel – early in Jesus’ ministry – there has been a lot of action so far in this gospel.
Right out of the box, after the introduction of Jesus as the Son of God about whom this “good news” is written, the whirlwind through Galilee begins: Jesus baptized in the Jordan River; the Spirit alighting on him; the wilderness adventure complete with the temptations of Satan; and then, Jesus’ first words, announcing the presence of God’s kingdom, and issuing the command for all to repent and believe. Then there is Jesus walking by the sea, summoning common fisher folk to follow him; his immediate circle widening to include the 12 apostles; his teaching in the synagogue with astounding authority; and everywhere he goes, healing and casting out demons along the way; pronouncing forgiveness of sin and even sharing meals with those who might be deemed unfit to spend time with.
It seems that on this whirlwind tour, Jesus is an instant success – he’s reached stardom in these first few chapters of the gospel. The crowds following Jesus have grown to such a point that as we enter the text this morning, everywhere he goes instantly becomes really, uncomfortably crowded – so much so, that Jesus and the apostles are having a hard time moving around or even finding a place where they can eat in peace.
There are some who don’t really know what to make of Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees have been watching him, and they are not quite buying into this Jesus, with his new ideas challenging the way things have “always been done.” They have become angry and fearful – especially as they see so many people coming to follow him. I mean, people are coming from all over Galilee - even from regions beyond the Jordan, like Tyre and Sidon to hear Jesus. To be near him. To be healed by him. To be part of the story, perhaps.
As we all know, as we have all witnessed through the events in our own world the past few months, angry people and fearful people often become dangerous people.
So disturbed by Jesus and his rock-star popularity are the Pharisees and the Herodians that they have already begun to try to find a way to destroy him.
And Jesus’s family? They aren’t quite sure what to make of Jesus either. There is no indication at this point in the story that they have any real understanding of who Jesus really is and why he has come. They only know he is their beloved son, brother, and friend. So, having heard what Jesus has been doing and how he has been challenging the status quo, the powers that be, they are worried that he has lost his mind. He is more than just “crazy busy,” or harried and flustered, they think. Perhaps he is just plum crazy. Or perhaps, they thought Jesus was getting carried away with himself, as The Message tells the story, and they decide they need to rescue him, by force, if necessary.
Now, just a point of common sense if you will, if you live in an occupied territory, and if you are a member of ancient cultural and religious systems with very strict customs and rules, and if you value your relative freedom and your life, you generally try to fly under the radar. Know what I mean? You don’t do things to call attention to yourself. You don’t go about openly questioning, agitating, and advocating for things that lie contrary to the prevailing systems of authority and power. And you don’t go about claiming access to divine authority or power.
When the religious authorities arrive, they don’t actually question Jesus’ power – they know he is truly performing deeds of extraordinary power and healing. But in their anger and their fear, they begin spreading rumors that the source of power Jesus is exercising is itself evil. They are saying that Jesus’ power is actually a form of black magic and devil tricks. They say that Jesus’ power comes from a demon and not just any demon, but chief among demons, Beelzebul himself – we might call him Satan.
They have witnessed the power of God at work in Jesus, they have heard John the Baptist’s proclamation and Jesus’ own assertion that the kingdom of God has come, and they have made the judgment that Jesus’ power is not divine but satanic. Even though they have been witnesses of God’s grace, they reject Jesus and call the power of God shown in his acts of love and healing, evil. They accuse him of being the devil and that is unforgivable.
Jesus immediately confronts their slander with a story, and a warning (again, from The Message): “Does it make sense to send a devil to catch a devil, to use Satan to get rid of Satan”, he asks? “A constantly squabbling family disintegrates. If Satan were fighting Satan, there soon wouldn’t be any Satan left. Do you think it’s possible in broad daylight to enter the house of an awake, able-bodied man, and walk off with his possessions unless you tie him up first? Tie him up, though, and you can clean him out.”
“Listen to this carefully. I’m warning you. There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. But if you persist in your slanders against God’s Holy Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives, sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.”.
Jesus isn’t denying that evil exists or that Satan is at work in the world. There were plenty of instances of such evil – just as there are today. There was human slavery, poverty, hunger, political and religious oppression, just as there is today. There were abuses of all kinds, greed, murder, and rape. There was brutality of one person against another. There was failure to love, comfort, and care for those in need. There was systematic discrimination and abuse of power. Just like today.
These are the powers that work against God. These are the powers that Jesus confronts, fights and condemns.
The good news of the gospel, as stated by Mark in his introduction, is that Jesus is the Son of God and that in him, rests God’s power and authority to defeat the evil one, to tie him up and to take from him what he would like to claim for himself.
In Jesus, there is food for the hungry and water for the thirsty; in Jesus there is healing for those victimized by injustice, hatred, poverty, war, violence and sin. In Jesus, there is acceptance and love for those previously rejected. In Jesus, the only place for condemnation is toward those who would claim his power, his word, and his salvation to be works of the evil one. In Jesus, a new day has arrived.
Not everyone in the world will agree, in fact there are quite a few who would find fault with this reading of the gospel. There are those who claim that the plight of the poor is their own fault and their own problem; there are those who are quick to blame victims of injustice or social inequality or abuse. There are those who say that we – (those who look like us, are of “our own kind”) have enough problems of our own and should not worry ourselves with feeding, clothing, protecting and defending, loving or caring for those outside of “our own kind.”
But Jesus says that whoever does the will of God is his kindred. Jesus says that the will of God is to love; to bring healing even when it is not “convenient” – even when it is risky. Jesus says the will of God is that we should follow the Ways of Jesus, forgiving, proclaiming the goodness of God and the power of God found in the cross. With his words Jesus teaches us. With his actions Jesus shows us. With his very body Jesus feeds us. With his blood Jesus slacks our thirst.
In all of his crazy busyness, harried and flustered as he may at times have been – just as we are, Jesus showed us that there is no middle way. Even when serving the needs of the poor around us makes us takes us out of our comfort zone, or stretches our resources, or challenges us in ways be cannot even begin to imagine, Jesus tells us to have no fear. Jesus says the only unforgiveable sin is to speak against what the Holy Spirit is doing in our midst as if it comes from the devil, to mistake what God is up to by calling it the work of the devil. The power of God, for the healing of the nations welcomes into the family of Christ all who believe, who follow the will of God, who know and embrace Jesus in the fullness of his gospel of repentance, love, healing and grace.
To follow Jesus means to look outside of our own comfort as individuals and as a congregation. It means looking around us and seeking ways to serve our neighbors. To invite them in, and to embrace and welcome them when they come. To follow Jesus means to look and act, perhaps, just a little bit crazy, because we follow in the Way of the one who gave his all for the world.