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Beside Himself!

David Evans

June 7, 2015
Mark 3:19b-35


Mark is clear about his purpose from the very first sentence of his gospel:
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Hear the Word of God as it is recorded in the 3rd chapter of the gospel of Mark:

 . . .and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’ And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? 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. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters* are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

Mark does not waste a moment as he rushes to tell us his gospel.    As we come to the 3rd chapter a lot has already taken place in the first two chapters.   Jesus has already exhibited signs of being the “Son of God” in a series of healings:

  • He has healed a man with an “unclean spirit” in the synagogue in Capernaum.
  • He has healed Simon Peter’s mother in law.
  • He has healed a man afflicted with leprosy.
  • Jesus heals a paraplegic, and even more dramatically he forgives his sins.
  • Then he heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath.

By now Jesus has offended the official religious leaders so profoundly incensed that they are plotting to do away with him.

So as we come to the 3rd chapter of the gospel, all the healing and offending takes a break for a moment.   Jesus chooses twelve friends and names them.   For the next three years Jesus will spend the majority of his time with these friends.    They will live together, eat together, journey the length and width of Judah and Israel and Samaria together.   These friends will live intimately with Jesus and become his apprentices and listen to his teaching and watch as he reaches out to the least of these with compassion and heals broken lives and eventually these twelve will adopt his way of life.   After Jesus chooses these twelve friends, he goes home.

He goes home to his family.   And that is where our text this morning picks up the story.   Home is that place, according to poet Robert Frost:

“…where if you go there they have to take you in.”  

Maybe, in the beginning, Mary is thrilled to have her son home.   Maybe in the beginning Jesus’ brothers and sisters are happy to see their brother.

But something is wrong.   Jesus has been away far too long now.   It is likely his family has heard the stories of the attacks he has endured and the slander that his opponents have spread about him as he has “battled” unclean spirits, healed the sick, and forgiven sins.

Now he is safe, back home, sleeping in his own bed and sharing meals around the family table.   But like a soldier who has seen too much and experienced things no one should ever experience, Mary and Jesus’ siblings soon begin to realize that not all is right.

Perhaps this wounded warrior, fresh from the battlefield of broken humanity, is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.   After all, people are beginning to say that something is wrong with Jesus.   In fact, Scribes have come all the way from Jerusalem and are spreading the rumor that Jesus is “possessed by Beelzebul”.

In other words, many are saying that Jesus is crazy.   His life is spinning out of control.  The Greek words here is “mainomai”…which you immediately recognize as the root word for “maniac”.   As one translation puts it:   Jesus “has gone out of his mind.” (NRSV)     But my favorite translation is Jesus “is beside himself.” (RSV)  It is so descriptive.   Surely you have had a moment in your calm and sane life when things spin out of control and you are “beside yourself.”   You are not your true self.   There is someone standing next to you that you do not recognize and who perhaps even scares you.   Because you know this person is not the true you.    No one knows Jesus better than his own family.    At least they think they know Jesus better than anyone else.    So like any protective family would do, Mary and Jesus’ brothers and sisters go to Jesus and attempt to pull him back into the house and talk some sense into him.

Jesus does not defend himself against that charges.   Jesus takes apart their charges one by one.   “How can Satan cast out Satan?” he asks.   Then there is an excursis on what some call the “unforgiveable sin”.    The sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit.   And since I am still not sure exactly what that sin is, I am going to leave it alone this morning.  Perhaps you could talk to John or Krystal or Kathy or your new interim pastor when she or he arrives and one of them can explain it to you!

But here is where I want to go with this:   neither Jesus’ family nor Jesus’ enemies recognize who Jesus is truly.   Neither Jesus’ family nor Jesus’ opponents recognize what the gospel has told us from the very first sentence:   that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”     So Jesus does something radical.   Jesus redefines “family”.   Who is Jesus’ mother?   Who are Jesus’ brothers?   Who are Jesus’ sisters?

Jesus looks around and sees the disciples, the fishermen and tax collectors and zealots who have chosen to leave everything behind and follow him to the ends of the earth and even to their own death.   Jesus looks them over and says:   “Here is my family.”    Then comes this clinching sentence:    “Whoever does the will of God is my family.” 

Jesus redefines family in a sentence.   The ones who do the will of God:   these compose Jesus’ family.    And of course being obedient to the will of God is at the heart of Jesus’ life.    In a way that no other person on earth has ever been obedient, Jesus is obedient to God’s claim on his life.     When I am brutally honest, my own life is mostly about doing my own will.     How about you?

Perhaps if you are “off center” or “crazy” or “beside yourself” then you actually take seriously the call to live as if the will of God is the central fact of your life and attempt to be obedient to God’s claim on your life.

To the outsider, even to some families, to live as if God’s will is central to your life is somewhat crazy.    For what Jesus teaches is often crazy.   Jesus says that “the poor in spirit” and “those who mourn” and the “peacemakers” are the ones who will be blessed in this life.    Jesus taught that God’s will is that we not hate our enemies but love our enemies.   Jesus proclaimed that God’s will is that we rejoice when we are persecuted for being obedient.   Jesus said that God’s will is that when someone strikes us on the cheek we are not to retaliate in kind.   In other words, there is no reason for “open carry” or “campus carry” laws in Jesus’ kingdom.

Perhaps the only qualification for being a follower of Jesus, a member of Jesus’ family, is that we are “beside ourselves” in our devotion to God.   Now I want to be clear here.   I am not talking about a “fanatical” kind of faith.   An “in your face” call to obedience in which we are so sure that we are right that we tolerate no other truth.   No, what I am talking about is a “cross-bearing” faith.

Rob Bell (in Velvet Elvis:  Repainting the Christian Faith, p. 110ff) had been the pastor of one of the fastest growing congregations in the United States for many years.  He thought of himself as “saved” and “redeemed” and “reborn”.   In other words, he thought of himself as a “new creation in Christ.”  Yet, he says, “Massive areas of my life were unaffected.”  Does that sound familiar?    I know that I have never had a Damascus Road type conversion.   Jesus has been battling to claim me “inch by inch” my whole life.

Over a period of months Rob Bell confronted demon after demon that plagued him.  Including that most seductive demon of all in the Christian’s life:  the demon that says our purpose in life is to keep everyone happy.  One day his therapist said his issue was a simple one.  Rob Bell was anticipating something quite profound and enlightening so he got out his pen.  Then the therapist said one word:  “Sin”.

There was a moment of profound silence, then the therapist said words that became a pivotal moment in Rob Bell’s life:  “Your job is the relentless pursuit of who God has made you to be.  And anything else you do is sin and you need to repent of it.” 

Like Jesus, if you “relentless pursuit of who God made you to be, someone will undoubtedly call you “crazy” or say that you are “beside yourself.”    Yet the reality is that you will never be more yourself than when you surrender your life to the One who made you and the One who claims you as God’s own.    That will be the moment Jesus looks at you and says:   “Look.   There.   There goes a member of my family.”   AMEN