The Gospel of Mark
has opened the window
on a very painful moment for Jesus
and his family.
So many Biblical stories reveal raw
human encounters and struggles
if we read them as they actually are
instead of reading them filtered
by generations and millennia of interpretation
and doctrinal overlay.
To me, that is one of the authenticating aspects
of Biblical wisdom – the bloody, red
rareness of its human narratives.
In Biblical stories we often see
human beings and God
nakedly portrayed without the usual pretense
and cosmetic protections of polite society.
Look at that story today.
We only catch this glimpse once every three years
in the Common Lectionary for Sundays.
It is so poignant that I want us to hover over it.
I confess to having done a little editing
because Mark puts a very strange argument
with the Temple scribes
right in the middle of this story,
which interferes with and confuses the family snapshot.
Then there is the sentence that the Lectionary edited.
Did you notice?
The reason the gospel for today seems to begin
in the middle of a sentence,
is because it does.
Take a look at the Gospel
on page five of your Worship Guide.
“And the crowd came together again,
so that they could not even eat.”
That is where the Lectionary begins this story.
However, the first part of that sentence was left out.
It begins this way:
“Then (Jesus) went home;” – semi-colon –
“and the crowd came together again…”
“Then Jesus went home…”
I have no idea why the Lectionary committee
left that out, unless it was because
the usual Christian narrative on Jesus
does not include him having a home.
But in the Gospel of Mark,
which is the earliest and prototype for the other gospels,
right after he names the twelve disciples,
Jesus goes home.
More importantly, he hasa home.
It is in Capernaum,
a lakeside town like Geneva.
While he grew up in Nazareth,
which is where his family likely still lived,
he had a home and a livelihood in Capernaum.
Still small by our standards today,
Capernaum was a town big enough to have a Roman garrison,
and it was close enough to the ten city-states
known as the Decapolis –
centers of Greek and Roman culture in that part of the world –
that is was likely much more cosmopolitan
Capernaum would have been more receptive
to the teachings of Jesus
than the more isolated hamlet of Nazareth,
where Jesus, like the prophets,
was not accepted in his own hometown.
So we can conjure up this scene
where Jesus returns home after collecting
a group of followers.
In fact, we need to recognize
that this story is at the beginningof Jesus’ public ministry.
So what has just happened?
In short order,
he was baptized by John in the Jordan –
a self-conscious act that associated him
with previous prophets in Israel.
He has already gotten into arguments
with John’s disciples and the Pharisees,
because he is seen eating with tax collectors
and sinners, and generally disrespecting the rules.
He heals an epileptic in the synagogue
and another man with a withered hand,
and is suddenly inundated by hordes of people
seeking cures for what ails them.
This further aggravates his reputation with the establishment
because he touches people the Temple clergy
That sets up the story that we just read today.
We have no idea whatsoever Jesus was up to
for all the years prior to his bursting upon the scene.
If we are going to hear this story
without the filter of Church dogma and
copious other interpretations,
we need to remember
that if Mark is the only gospel we have –
which it would have been for about a decade –
then we know nothing about miraculous birth stories.
We know nothing about Mary being a virgin.
We know nothing about twelve year old Jesus in the temple.
We know nothing about Jesus
until he is baptized.
Remember, Mark’s Gospel beginswith John the Baptist.
We know nothing about Jesus
before he comes to be baptized by John.
Every Gospel has a different Jesus
just like every one of us has a different Jesus.
In John’s Gospel,
Jesus is the manifestation of a cosmic spirit:
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God…”
In Luke’s Gospel,
Jesus has the DNA of great prophets,
and his ancestry is traced directly back
to Abraham and Adam.
In Matthew’s Gospel,
Jesus has the royal blood of King David,
and fits into the mold of Moses.
But in Mark’s Gospel,
the first gospel,
Jesus seems to be adopted by God
as a full-grown adult.
We do not get to know if it was sudden,
gradual, or planned;
all we get is a snapshot of the moment
when it happened in the Jordan River.
So, we come to today’s story
still at the beginning of it all –
a fresh face suddenly big on the scene
of first century Galilee.
No real threats yet,
no ominous warnings,
nothing but that strange command to the demonic spirits
to shut up and not tell the humans who Jesus is.
For the third time in three chapters
Jesus is completely surrounded by beggars, hangers-on,
the wounded, and the lame.
They believe he can cure them with a touch
or a prayer.
“Touch me! Touch me!”
“Over here, Jesus, see me!”
“Please, please, cure me Jesus, cure me!”
Twenty miles away, in Nazareth,
“his family” it says, hears about what’s going on.
Their brother, her son,
thinks he is the new Messiah or something –
or at least that is what people are saying.
He has become a megalomaniac
with enormous delusions of grandeur,
and he is leading those poor, pathetic people on.
Friends and neighbors to Jesus’ family
were saying that Jesus must have lost his mind,
or perhaps he has been possessed by an evil spirit.
It is not hard to imagine
that Nazareth gossip
had gotten mean and nasty,
and even friends were giving the bar-Joseph family
But actually, I just violated my own warning.
There is no bar-Joseph family in Mark
because Mark does not name his father, ever.
In fact, Jesus never calls his mother by name in Mark’s Gospel.
He is referred to as the “son of Mary” once.
But anyway, it is easy to imagine
that Jesus’ brothers and sisters and mother
felt obliged to try to do something –
presumably they loved and cared for Jesus
no matter what had happened to change
their brother and son
into a raving lunatic.
That is what it says, anyway, in the Gospel of Mark:
“When his family heard it,
they went out to restrain him, for people were saying,
‘He has gone out of his mind.’”
They went out to restrainhim.
Now let’s absorb that, because it is so very different
from the usual profile of Jesus and his family.
As a group, Jesus’ brothers and sisters
have all come after him to take him by force if necessary,
back to Nazareth and try to find a way to make him well –
or at least stop the public embarrassment.
His family has a tactical problem though.
When they arrive, Jesus is surrounded by his students
and followers who are crowded into a space
between him and his family,
plus all those people waiting to be healed.
We can imagine a multitude of immobile
or at least hobbling,
and highly excitable people
between Jesus and his family.
Way back at the edge of the crowd
word comes down that Jesus’
mother, and brothers, and sisters are asking for him.
Jesus is no dummy,
he knows why they are there
and he does not do a thing to help them come closer.
In fact, he insults them:
“Who are my mother and brothers?
These folks, here, are my mother and brothers and sisters.”
The Gospel of Mark is not a modern novel
so we do not get to know what happened next.
The chapter ends there, and the next chapter simply begins: “Again, he began to teach beside the seas…”
So we do not know how it was resolved,
orifit was resolved.
But like I said, it is an open window
through which we see a raw and painful moment
between Jesus and his family.
I absolutely love it.
Not only does it humanize Jesus
in the most guttural of voices,
it reminds us of our own constant propensity
to project onto Jesus our own hopes, desires, and prejudices.
But then again, that is what we do to one another, isn’t it?
When I was an adolescent,
the youngest of five and the last one living at home,
there was a painful rupture between me and my parents.
I was kicked out of the house
and left gladly, without a thought about the next day.
As many of you know, and remember,
the cultural divides were hot and bitter
and very often generational.
Perhaps even worse than today, although who can measure?
If my mom and dad and I
had been able to have a computer monitor
hooked up to each one of our brains
to reveal what each one of us saw and heard
when the other one was speaking,
we would have realized we were not seeing
or hearing the same people at all.
If we had had a therapist in the room with us
at the moment of conflict,
we might have been able to understand
that each of us was projecting onto the other
an amazing array of characteristics and prejudices
that simply did not belong.
That is what we do.
We project – as if the other is a movie screen –
and onto them we cast our own beliefs,
assumptions, fears, hopes,
that may or may not have anything to do
with the person upon which we are projecting.
If we have intense feelings of attraction or repulsion,
admiration or anger,
that are outsized for the particular role
that person plays in our lives,
or toward someone we do not actually
have a relationship with,
it is a good indication that what we are feeling
is the composition of our own projections.
Public figures we know only through the media
are nothing but a big projection screen –
we do not really know them.
And people with whom we have public relationships –
teachers, doctors, lawyers,
clergy, dentists, the butcher
and candlestick maker –
are also a great host for our projections
of what we expect them to be and think and do.
So much of what we see and believe
about one another
is what we project onto them.
It is not something we can prevent
because it is how we are constructed.
But we can understand that we are doing it,
and catch ourselves at it,
and then go back to the drawing board
and wonder about what is us and what is them.
Like with Jesus.
What have we projected onto Jesus
that is our human and institutional stuff –
our hopes and needs and expectations
rather than the person
that appears in the text of the Gospels?
Can we live with a fully human, imperfect, Jesus
who does not answer all our questions
and concerns, and is unable
to stanch the flow of mysteries
about God, and death, and life after death?
Whether it is Jesus
or one another,
we cannot help but project our own stuff,
but we can get better and better
at recognizing when we are doing it
and also more curious
about uncovering the person beneath our projections.
Just something to think about,
and maybe work on with a little more vigor.