In the Gospels, Jesus often has hard words for those who want to follow him. He attacked the debt and purity codes which held the crowd in bondage. Now he is attacking the very heart of the Middle Eastern social order—the extended family as the unit of socialization.
Jesus’ family—his mother and brothers and sister—were worried about his safety. I believe they were real flesh and blood brother and sisters. When I read stories about the miraculous birth of the Buddha, I am reminded that miraculous birth stories are concocted to elevate the status of the messenger of God. That aside, it is not uncommon for people to see demons in people who are challenging their practices and values. Jesus just had that discussion with the Judean (not Jewish) leaders and cleverly turned the tables on them. The encounter reminded me in some way of the attacks in the Republican debates—the labels of lobbyist and corporate raider undercut the credibility of the candidate. In Mark the charge of being possessed by a demon is intended to discredit Jesus; however, the leaders would fail to undercut Jesus’ credibility and would have to crucify him. This is what his mother and brothers are worried about. He is shaking up the establishment and will ultimately pay the price.
Jesus stays on message. He is introducing a new social order where kinship in and of itself counts for little. In the Kin-dom, what will really count is faith and loyalty to the Risen Christ. By undercutting the kinship system, Jesus is also undermining the authority of institutions which claim that loyalty to the institution suffices for loyalty to the Risen Christ and Gospel values. As I study the history of Islam, I have to wonder whether the ascendancy of Islam which came a little more than a hundred years after the church got in bed with Constantine and the empire was the direct result of the church losing its hold on Gospel values. When you consider the high moral demands Islam places on its followers, this may have been the case.
Jesus introduced a new social order. Martin Luther King called it the “beloved community” where the universe bends toward justice. The values in the beloved community are justice, beauty, peace, joy, gratitude, forgiveness, care for the poor, hungry, homeless, uneducated, ill and imprisoned among us—the least among us. I highly recommend the articles in the current issue of Radical Grace (http://www.cacradicalgrace.org/bookstore/radicalgrace). They are all about Franciscan mysticism. I added beauty to the above list because one writer points out that Bonaventure saw justice as the restoration of beauty where there is distortion.
Like Jesus in today’s Gospel, we have work to do. We are called to make the beloved community—the new fathers, mothers and brothers and sisters of the Risen Christ—real in our world today. I am reading Canon Jim Glennon’s book, Your Healing Is Within, and one scriptural reference jumped out at me, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me.” (Jn 9:4) This is powerful. Jesus is telling his followers that WE must do the work of the one who sent him. We! The work of Jesus is justice. It is our work. We are the eyes and ears, hands and feet of the Risen Christ. I would love to see someone at the Super Bowl hold up a placard reading “John 9:4.” That would give a whole new meaning to Tebowing!