Sometimes, our thoughts on Jesus as a person do not go much further than the words of Christmas carols.
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us he knew
go the words of Once in Royal David’s city, and that is as far as we go. Generations of people grew up being taught the words, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon this little child.” And, if we think of Jesus in that way, we think even more so that Mary was a passive and submissive person, a plaster saint in a blue robe, disengaged from the realities of harsh human life. When we read today’s Gospel reading, we see that Saint Mark challenges our traditional views of Mary and of Jesus.
Saint Mark Chapter 3 Verse 21 tells us, “When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.'” Jesus’ family come for him because they are embarrassed at the things being said about Jesus. The gossiping tongues have been wagging, Jesus is believed to be mad, why don’t his family do something about him?
How would Jesus have felt about this? Wouldn’t it have been bad enough for him to know that people were talking in such a way? How much worse must it have felt for his family to have been brought into the matter?
There is a test of his calling, a test of his vocation to follow the path he believes to be the right one. It is a reminder that following a calling will always bring strains, will always cause problems. But it is not just a matter of gossip. Look at the accusations that follow, in Chapter 3 Verse 22, we read, “And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.'” Jesus is being accused of engaging with evil.
It seems that since ancient times those who cannot stand their ground on matters of principle have resorted to ad hominem arguments, unable to withstand the logic of their opponent, they instead make personal allegations against their opponent.
The worst accusation that Jesus’ opponents could make is that he is an agent of the powers of darkness. Jesus responds not with accusations against the scribes, but with a dissection of their logic. If he is evil when it is obvious that he is opposing evil, then how can evil triumph? He says to them in Chapter 3 Verses 24 and 25, “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.” For powerful religious people, Jesus’ teaching is so unsettling that their response is absurd. In the history of the church, there have been many times when religious leaders have persecuted those who sought to uphold Jesus’ teachings.
The experience of Jesus at the hands of the scribes should serve as a lesson to all who would seek to follow him. “He was little, weak and helpless,” he was also tough, principled and formidable.
Saint Mark challenges the meek and mild view of Jesus, he also challenges the plaster saint image of Mary. The family hear that Jesus is accused of being mentally unbalanced and who comes for him? Chapter 3 Verse 31 tells us, “Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.” Mary is not the traditional First Century Palestinian mother, staying at home, while sending out her sons, she is the leader of the group.
Also, there is no biblical evidence that Mary did not have children as well as Jesus, her firstborn; his brothers are referred to here, and in the Acts of the Apostles, James is referred to as the brother of Jesus. It is the leaders of the church who in later centuries decide that sexuality is something evil and that the perfect woman is one who avoids sexual contact. The belief that Mary was always a virgin became one used not only to declare that sex was something inherently sinful, but also one to oppress women who, if they are not virgins, must be sinful. Mary is a flesh and blood mother concerned about her family and concerned about the stories she has heard concerning her son.
Jesus is told his family are outside and in Chapter 3 Verses 33-34 he replies, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!'” It would have been a shocking statement in times when the ties of blood and faith and race were so important. Jesus is sweeping aside all human loyalties and saying there are more important things than the family or religion or people into which a person is born. The things that matter are one’s own beliefs, the way one lives, the way one treats others, one’s own integrity, these are the things for which Jesus looks, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” he declares in Chapter 3 Verse 35.
Saint Mark challenges his readers, do we see Jesus as the person whom Mark knew?