Sunday, 10 June 2012

Mark 3:20-35- Who is Jesus?

                        Mark 3:20-35  New International Version (NIV)

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family[a] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
30 He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

       The other day I was on and I typed Jesus' name into the search engine. 'Cuz that's the kind of thing you do when you're a priest. I found some very interesting books. Books came up about how the Bible is wrong about who Jesus was. I assume they were also going to present the “right” version of Jesus. There are books about Jesus by New Age leaders like Deepak Chopra who have their own spin on who they believe Jesus was. I saw a book that paralleled the sayings of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and Lao Tzu. The implied message, I think, is that they all really taught the same thing. I saw a book that was all about various Neo-Pagan interpretations of Jesus. I also saw the movie and CD for Jesus Christ Superstar- which is awesome.
          People are very interested in sharing their opinions on Jesus. It also seems like everyone has an opinion. Some think he was just a nice ordinary guy. Some think he was an alien from outer space. Some think he ate magic mushrooms and then taught people about his visions of the kingdom of God.
          The question "Who is Jesus?" is a question that we continue to ask, even after 2000 years of meditating on him and reading and writing about him.
          People were asking this question when Jesus was walking with his disciples as well. Mark tells us that some of Jesus' family went to get him believing, "He has gone out of his mind". Some people in Jesus' day, and in our own day, believe that Jesus was just a crazy person- Maybe a convincing crazy person, but crazy none-the-less.
          Only a crazy person would claim to be able to forgive sins, as he does in Mark ch 2. Only the person who was sinned against can forgive sins. How can Jesus claim to forgive someone's sins when he hasn't met them before, and so hasn't had the opportunity to be sinned against by that person?
          Jesus says other things that make people think he was crazy. In John ch 8 Jesus says "before Abraham was born I AM". Which has two levels. First, he claims to have existed for thousands of years even though he was about 30 years old. That sounds crazy. But in the second part of that statement Jesus calls himself "I AM" , which points to the divine name of God, YHWH. In John ch 10 Jesus says, "I and the Father are one", and people try to stone him for claiming to be God. Because of these statements, some think Jesus is like a person who believes he is Napoleon. Maybe even more crazy because at least Napoleon was a human being. Jesus claimed to be able to do things no human being can do and that he was in some way... God. In our reading from Mark today we read that some of Jesus' family came to get Jesus because they thought he was out of his mind. We'll still bump into people who believe something similar about Jesus. 
          Some people have claimed that Jesus was a liar. A crazy person actually believes the things they say. A liar doesn't believe what they say, but they want everyone else to. A con-artist has some way of benefiting from the lie. They gain money, power, or respect. Some believe that Jesus and his claims to be messiah were really part of a con. He proclaimed his teachings from the hills, but he secretly laughed at them from behind closed doors as he counted his money. Some believe his was a master liar and con-man.
          Some might even take this one step further. Maybe Jesus was actually ... evil. In our reading from Mark, the religion scholars say "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons." They think that this is all an evil plot to draw people off the path to God.  They think Jesus is a wolf in sheep's clothing drawing the people to the slaughter. Perhaps Jesus was the worst kind of liar. Maybe Jesus was actually evil. Maybe he was actually an enemy of God.        
          Another option that seems to be especially popular is that Jesus is a kind of wise teacher. He was a remarkable human being, but nothing more than that- a human being. He really wasn't any more divine than the rest of us. People have misunderstood him throughout the centuries. People have attached mythical stories about miracles and claims to divinity that really didn't belong to the original Jesus. Primarily, he was a teacher. He taught us how to be good moral people, and how to live lives of wisdom, but we've misunderstood him.
          Now I'd like to take a few moments to look at those possibilities, because they are all possibilities that are real and alive all around us. They are also not new, as we can see from reading about Jesus in Bible.
          First, could it be that Jesus was a crazy person?  To claim to forgive sin, and to claim to preexist the old testament figure Abraham at 30 years of age... well,  this is indeed a crazy thing for any ordinary human being to claim, but what if he was extra-ordinary? I once met a man who called Jesus a narcissist for claiming divinity. It's narcissistic … if it's not true. If it's true, though, then it's just reality. A Narcissist believes and claims that they are more important than they actually are. A humble person knows the truth about who they are- no better, but no worse either. If Jesus' claims to divinity are true then they are true expressions of himself.  Jesus' claims would be crazy if he wasn't truly who he said he was. We have to ask ourselves, "as we read about Jesus in the Bible and get a sense of his character, do we get a sense that he was crazy? Are his actions and manner consistent with him being a crazy person?" I don't think that is the sense most people have after reading the Gospels- An unusual person perhaps, a special person, but not crazy.      
          Next, some say that Jesus was a liar. We have to ask ourselves, would a con man do the things Jesus did? Would he be willing to lead the kind of life Jesus lived? Would a liar and a con-man show the love Jesus showed?  Would a con-man be willing to die for his con, knowing he would receive nothing for all his lying? … It would be more likely that a con-man would recant and come clean if it meant telling the truth ... or receiving death. A crazy person might be willing to die for an illusion because they believe it is true, but a liar won't die for something they know is false because there is nothing to be gained.  Do you get the sense from reading about Jesus in the Bible that he was a liar and a con-man? Does that match his character?
          In my experience people love  and respect Jesus, even if they don't go to Church or don't like the church. People still have respect for Jesus even if they don't have respect for Christianity. Even people from other religions try to claim Jesus for themselves as a Buddhist Bodhisattva, or a Hindu Guru, or a Muslim Prophet. I doubt that a con-man could produce such respect across cultures and times.
          For the same reasons I also doubt that such a man could be considered demon-possessed or evil. Jesus defends himself against this claim in our mark reading because the exorcisms Jesus did were an actual healings, not false healing. People's lives were changed- no one disputed that. Jesus performed exorcisms, however you want to understand that. Someone was hurting and Jesus made them better. This is not a fake victory, this is an actual victory. In Jesus' actions a victory has been won over evil forces. If an army starts killing their own, they are doomed to loose the battle. What Jesus did was bind the strong man, the devil, and take back what was taken, the person. The fruit of what Jesus did was good- people's lives were  healed. That is not the fruit of evil. And the work of the Holy Spirit should never be called evil.       
          I'm proposing that the ideas that he was a liar, a con-man, or evil are untrue. This leaves us with our last possibility, which is really the most prevalent in our day, and is also the most complicated. Perhaps Jesus was merely a wise human teacher. Implied in this statement is that the early writers of the New Testament were really misrepresenting Jesus. Maybe they are the ones who have lied. ... The problem with this view is that we then have to assume that the early writers were not interested in giving us an accurate view of the character and person who we know as Jesus Christ. We have to assume that their motives were something other than wanting us to know who Jesus was. Most of the New Testament was written very early, so in many cases it is likely that the writers knew people who knew Jesus. There weren't very many generations between themselves and Jesus. The churches were also dramatically dedicated to Jesus, even to the point of risking their own lives. In the context of a community like that- where people were willing to die for their belief in Jesus- it is unlikely they would accept writings that misrepresented Jesus. It is unlikely they would tolerate a lie when it comes to the character of Jesus. 
          But, if it is true that the early churches wanted to truly show us who Jesus was and is, then we have to reconsider our idea of Jesus as merely a good human teacher. C.S. Lewis once said, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic- on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg- or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” [1] If we can trust what the early churches were telling us about Jesus through what they wrote (our New Testament), if we're willing to deal with the sayings they have handed down to us, even the sayings we find offensive, difficult, or hard to understand, then we have to confront the reality that Jesus is who he said he is. If we accept what Jesus said of himself, we have to agree with Lewis that he is either not moral, or he is much more than a great moral teacher. There is no middle ground.  
          And that is our final possibility. If we reject the ideas that Jesus was crazy, that he was a liar, that he was evil, and that he was merely a good human teacher and the early church lied about him, then we are left with one more possibility- Jesus was who the Bible tells us he was. He claimed to forgive sins, and identified himself with God to the point that experiencing Jesus was in some way experiencing God. An amazing thing to accept, but that is who we are presented with.  He forgave sins because he is, in some wonderful and mysterious way ... God. He said that he existed before Abraham because he actually existed before creation itself. He said that he and the Father are one because he is, in some way, God come among us.
          So we have to decide how we will accept Jesus. Will we reject him as crazy? Will we reject him as a liar? or as evil? Will we dramatically twist him into something we feel we can accept- reshaping him into our own image? Or will we receive him as the early church, who loved Jesus, wanted us to know him?
          People will continue to ask who Jesus is. People will continue to fall into the categories we spoke about. Jesus invites us to be his family and to do the will of God, but that has to start with knowing Jesus. The early Church was willing to die for what they believed about Jesus. They wrote letters and Gospels to show us the Jesus they knew. Later Christians would protect these writings with their lives, and they have now handed them on to you.
          I would like to challenge us this week to reread a Gospel. It doesn't matter which one, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. I challenge you to read one of those Gospels this week. It might be your 100th time reading it, or it might be the first time. If you want help please ask. If you don't have a Bible we'll get you one. Try to read a Gospel in one sitting. If you need to spread it out, give yourself no more than a week. Read it asking God to show you who Jesus is as a person. Read it and be open to being changed by the person you meet there. Read it with the desire to be a part of the family of Jesus and to hear his voice say of us, "Here are my mother and my brothers and my sisters!". And the next step will be to ask ourselves who we are for having met him.

[1]               C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 52.
Follow @RevChrisRoth