We are studying St. Paul at our Wednesday Eucharist / bible study, and as Rev. Deb told us last week there is an overarching question in our study of how you know that you or anyone is indeed called by the Holy Spirit to a specific ministry. She also posed the question that when someone is so zealous in their calling, as with St. Paul, how do you know they’re not totally out of their minds? Or put another way, does faithfulness to Jesus sometimes make people act in ways that others consider to be crazy? This can be especially troubling if the person is a family member.
My half-brother, 20 years my senior, was in every way a model citizen. He loved the Lutheran Church and was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in our town. Most members of that church considered him a pillar of that community, for he was in many ways a peacemaker and lover of all people.
My brother, through his wife, became very involved in the Lutheran charismatic movement, and when my sister-in-law couldn’t convince the pastor of the church to incorporate charismatic, (speaking in tongues) into the worship life of the church my brother and sister quit and became Pentecostals.
As time went on the nuclear family of my brother sister-in-law and niece became more and more withdrawn and separated from our extended family. The Pentecostal church had become their family. The reason I tell the story is that my brother exhibited more and more “crazy” behavior in his practice of his religion. For instance, he would dress up like a clown makeup and all and handout religious flyers to the tourist in Galveston or he would drag a big wooden cross with a wheel on the end evangelizing. Rev. Deb, our resident psychologist and rector explained to me that his behavior, might seem crazy to me and other people but could be perfectly normal within his church community. After all he was a functional member of society, having an important career, and loving and caring for his family.
My experience with my crazy brother makes me very sympathetic toward Mary and the rest of her family with what they were experiencing at the reports of her Son’s behavior.
Jesus had probably become a well-trained carpenter or tekton, like his father, and was perhaps the main support of his mother. But after his baptism by John the Baptist he just walked away from that life. He convinced fishermen to abandon their important vocation and follow him as well as a tax collector. He had amassed a multitude of followers trying to press in on him to hear his teachings and receive his healing. His family was there for an intervention, to rescue him from his own “cult.”
While Jesus’s family are attempting to rescue him and bring him home he is in the house having a debate with some irate Pharisees and Scribes who are attempting to use lies to discredit him. They claim that he is casting out demons because he has Beelzebub, an upper echelon demon, working for him giving him power to exercise demons. Jesus uses an analogy that a house divided cannot stand and if Satan cast out himself then he will surely fall.
He goes on to say that the only way a strong man’s house can be plundered is if the strongman is first bound. Jesus is stronger than Satan and binds him and casts out his demons.
I know that this may sound like something from a horror story featuring the devil, demons, and exorcisms but Jesus took seriously the realities of Satan and other demonic powers. Jesus likely believed, as many of his society did, that a personality named Satan existed, but the reality signified by the name Satan does not necessarily mean a personality with horns and a red tail.
It does name the demonic power that is actively engaged against the compassionate and reconciling love of God. The reality that Jesus names here is our captivity to the powers of evil signified by Satan, powers that continue to seek our allegiance.
They are the forces and structures of power that capture us and cause us to hurt ourselves, to hurt others, and to hurt God. Their numbers are legion (pun intended). To name a few of these, there is the power of racism, which tells us to believe that one group is superior to another simply because of skin color or cultural heritage. The power of nationalism that thrives on the fear of an imaginary foe and believes that citizenship in a state should be limited to one ethnic, cultural, religious, or identity group. There is the power of patriarchy, which tells us that men should dominate women. The power of materialism, which thunders at us that money gives us life. The power of militarism, the belief that only weapons and war bring us peace and security. There is redemptive violence that demands vengeance and retribution as a way of responding to a wrong, and an injustice that causes us to kill one another, often in the name of God.
These demons exact power over us not on their own, – no, we hand our power to them. And just as the prophet Samuel delivered God’s message to Israel of what the dreadful cost of having a king would be, fear drove them to give over their power to a human king.
These are the idols we worship and sins that separate us from God. The same fears can drive us to hand over to Satan our precious life that Christ won for us and not to know the Holy Spirit he sends to us.
To question or reject that presence and the signs of his kingdom are to risk missing out on the good news that God has in store for us in the person and message of this Jesus.
If we go back outside the house, which is a symbol of the church, Mary and Jesus’s siblings are calling for him to come out to them for they think he has lost his mind. Word is sent to Jesus but instead of him going out to them or having them brought in he makes the statement that his true family are the ones that do the will of God. These are his mother, brother, sister, and father.
Those who follow him and believe in him are his family. We are his family, the Church, his Body in the world. – Saying that Mary and his siblings are not his family apart from everyone who does God’s will through him means that no one has an exclusive in by bloodline or pedigree but only by faith in the Gospel. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
An ancient rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended, and the day was on its way back.
“Could it be,” asked one student, “when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?” “No,” answered the rabbi.
“Could it be,” asked another disciple, “when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?” “No,” said the rabbi.
“Well then, what is it?” the rabbi’s pupils demanded.
“It is when you look on the face of any woman or man and see that she or he is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot do this, then, no matter what time of day it is, it is still night.”
May we all, my sisters and brothers, always walk in the bright light of Christ, Amen.
Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16) (Feasting on the Word: Year B volume) (Kindle Locations 4054-4057). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.