Safe or Risky?

7th June 2024

Lucinda brought home her fiancé to meet her parents, and during the weekend her father invited the young man, Will, into his study to find out more about him.

“What are your plans?” he asked.
“I’m a scholar of the Bible,” Will replied.
“Well, that’s admirable,” Lucinda’s father replied.
“But what will you do to provide a nice house for my daughter?”
“I will study, and God will surely provide for us,”
Will explained.
“And how will you buy her a nice engagement ring?
“I will study hard, and God will provide for us.”
“And children?”
asked the father. “How will you support children?”
“Don’t worry, sir, God will provide,”
replied the fiancé.

The conversation continued in much the same fashion. After Will and Lucinda had left, her mother asked her father what he found out. The father answered, “Well, the bad news is that he has no job and no plans, but the good news is that he thinks I’m God.”

In our gospel passage this Sunday from Mark the issue of families and loyalty are at its core. Jesus’ teaching is causing even his family to become concerned. We are told that they ‘went out to restrain him’ because the crowds were saying ‘he has gone out of his mind.’

When I started work, I’d often come across a sign that read like this. ‘You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps!’ We often say it in jest about another, but in Mark’s account it’s been said out loud, in public, and even to Jesus’ own family. Not only that, but his family seems to believe it and are ready to take action.

We can all consider someone crazy for many reasons.  Perhaps they hold very different beliefs from us. Maybe they act and behave in ways that are threatening or, at the very least, hard to understand. Or might it be those who have a passion which they want, even insist, should be everyone’s.

In Jesus’ case, it seems to be that he is healing anyone and everyone in need and casting out demons and doing all this on the Sabbath. He is, in other words, breaking the rules to make sure everyone can experience God’s grace.

What follows in Mark’s account are statements about demon possession, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and then questioning family bonds and loyalty. It’s a tricky passage. Maybe taking the Old Testament or Epistle reading would have been an easier or safer choice.

But that’s the point – following Jesus is always risky, always throws up challenges, always requires us to look again at our deeply held assumptions.

Jesus’ act of welcoming and healing those who were excluded immediately challenges religious norms, and in doing so he’s shaking up the people around him, particularly the religious authorities. 

Jesus redefines who’s in and who’s out. Demon-possessed, those maimed or born with some physical limitation or defect – these kinds of people were often assumed to be cursed, to be unnatural, to have sinned or to be suffering from the sins of their parents. Yet Jesus forgives and heals all who are in need. Everyone. No exceptions. And, just in case his listeners and observers weren’t sure about this before, Jesus will push this radical inclusion to the limit when he redefines what it means to be a family (those who do God’s will) in an age when family was everything.

This is why Jesus is called crazy. And in many ways we can expect this also if we’re truly following his way. It’s not that Jesus ceased to love and care for his mother or his family. It speaks of the challenge of being a disciple where we are called to make Christ our number one priority, however difficult that at times may be.

I pray that each of us will inhabit that place where we are able to demonstrate the priority that Christ has in our own lives through what we say, the way we react, the way we live and how we choose to spend our time.

At times, I’m sure we’ll have no plans, but thankfully in our case, God really is our Father.

God bless you,
Revd Paul