I couldn’t sleep this morning, so I figured, rather than toss and turn, I’d go downstairs and pray. Don’t for one minute think I’m good and holy, because I never get out of bed early to do this. So, anyway, I pick up the readings of the day. I recently read in the book “Prayerfulness” by Robert Wicks that Henri Nouwen told him the most important thing he could do for his prayer life was to read the daily Scriptures and sit in silence with God for 20 minutes every day. I don’t know if I made it a full 20 minutes, but I gave it my best shot.
I read the first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews and have to admit that it didn’t really do much for me. The Psalm was a familiar one, so I kind of breezed through that. (I know, I know. I’m not supposed to be “breezing” through Scripture.) And then I got to the Gospel, which just stopped me dead in my sleepy, prayerful tracks. It was one single verse from the Gospel of Mark 3: 20-21:
“Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.'”
Well, I had my money quote for reflection. The only thing my mind could focus on was his family’s claim, “He is out of his mind.” Why was this particular verse chosen — on its own — as the Gospel for today? Don’t we need a little context? Why did they think he was out of his mind? Part of me found some comfort in the fact that the Jesus’ family thought he was crazy — I suddenly felt in very good company — but I needed more. So I went to the Bible to read the surrounding verses.
Leading into that verse is the selection of the twelve apostles. Following that verse is the heart of the matter: They thought Jesus was possessed by Satan. Basically Jesus was acting so crazy, in their opinion, they figured they’d better save him from himself.
Well, to be honest, what Jesus says does sound kind of crazy, even in hindsight. He’s curing the lame, casting out demons, telling people to love those who hurt them, to turn the other cheek, to give away everything they have and follow him. You have to admit, if someone walked into our midst today and asked all those things of us, we’d very likely have him seized and branded as crazy. So we can begin to imagine what must have been going through Jesus’ family’s collective mind at the time.
Do we really listen to what Jesus asks of us, or do we, like his family of old, read his words and think, “He is out of his mind.” Because, really, most of what the Gospel challenges us to do stands in opposition to everything our culture considers sane. I’m not very good at truly loving the people I live with, no less my enemies. I can’t imagine giving away all that I own. I find it impossible not to worry about tomorrow, even if God loves me more than the birds of the air. If someone asks for my shirt, I am not likely to give her my cloak as well. Do you know how cold it is in upstate New York?
Jesus was counter cultural then, and he is counter cultural now. And if we really follow the Gospel, we, too, may be branded as crazy. That Gospel reading — so short yet so powerful — reminds us that our God came into our midst and suffered ridicule and far worse for his message and his actions. Are we willing to follow, even if people are likely to say we are out of our minds?