The madness of religious prophets -Mark 3: 20-21

The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples 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.”Jesus’ family tried to restrain him because people were saying that he had gone out of his mind, that he was crazy.

Meandering thoughts on the Gospel for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year B:

The people came together again, (crowding Jesus & his disciples??). His family goes out (to the crowded place — where were they before this? Did this happen in Nazareth?). “People were saying…” Were these the same people as those who “came together again”? There is an impression that some thought Jesus crazy. (“he has gone out of his mind”); some may have thought him to be one who spoke the Truth; perhaps some just curious. His family goes out to RESTRAIN him. Do they think he has gone out of his mind? Were they trying to protect him? Did he embarass them by his words and actions? Did they want to hide him away “far from the madding crowd”? These are meandering questions for which that aren’t necessarily attempted answers in the following.

Many prophets are dismissed by calling them crazy. Their message doesn’t make sense to those who live day by day in their subconscious world. (See Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, Chpt 19, pp 140 ff. It may start to make sense to those who live with a conscious mind.). It is easier to dismiss the prophet as crazy, as spouting nonsense. The message sounds absurd to us who say they have to live in the “real world” of worries about money, health, family, job, survival. Jesus’ message about why worry; see the birds in the air and the lilies of the field seems crazy. If God takes care of them, won’t God take care of you as well? Simplistic and crazy.

But that message seems absurd. The Gospel passage indicates that it sounded absurd in Jesus’ time. It has sounded absurd to most down through the centuries and it sounds absurd to many today. The Dessert Fathers were seen as crazy. St. Francis was judged crazy. People didn’t understand Mother Teresa. (And many took delight when they found out that she confessed a lack of faith at times during her life.). Again, this is not just the way of Jesus and the Christian prophets. It is a common response, the response of the subconscious mind, to any who proclaim an absurd simple life of faith. The conscious recognize an “element of truth” in the proclamation to love because that is what we are called to do, to forgive with no expectation of reciprocation, to give without wanting something in return.

And then there are those who find such proclamations dangerous. These are the “powerful” in the worldly sense of power. Prophets speak “truth to power.” They are killed because of that. Jesus, the many martyrs for the Holy (both Christian and non-Christian), Martin Luther King Jr. — these are the ones who come to mind. But it is “safer” to first try other options. Proclaim the prophet to be crazy or mad. Tell the people that s/he endangers their way of life. The prophet does endanger that way because our everyday way of life is not the way to holiness.

A priest recently told me that Christians should not assume an attitude of “victimhood.” What does that mean? This was in response to my assertion that Christians live with a different set of values than many in our secular society. Western Christians need to become more aware that following Jesus means following him to the cross as much as if not more than following him through the every day path of teaching and preaching. The Jesus Movement is not easy. “Life in Christ is life in the mystery of the Cross.” (Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 166)

What does “victimhood” look like? Many point to the thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust. They “willingly” went to the ovens with a belief that “this is God’s will.” Is that “victimhood” or is it an awareness of the explanation of why the Jewish people were exiled and became a “subservient” race? (There was a Jewish resistance movement that we hear little about. Who was acting according to “God’s will — those who “passively” went to the gas chambers and ovens or those who fought against the Nazi evil, or both, or neither?)

Recently, someone burned a Gay Pride flag that was flown at Trinity Cathedral during June, Gay Pride month. The Trinity response is to buy and hang another flag. As some have pointed out, burning the flag called more attention to June as Pride month and to Trinity as a welcoming community of faith. Some will see Trinity’s response (especially if burning and buying were become a pattern) as a foolish, (crazy?) way to go. Other’s see it standing against evil. But it certainly is not “victimhood.” But is it prophetic?

A huge question remains. How do we know the message is “true.” Was it true in Jesus’ day because it conformed with that of the prophets before him? Is it true yesterday and today because it agrees with the kerygma, with Jesus’ message. Is it true because Buddha preached detachment and so we still try to be detached from all that is material and that ties us to our selves? That seems to be the criteria. Communally we recognize truth that is proclaimed by those who strive to hear God and then feel called to be the voice of God. They are called to be that voice in word and deed and they cannot resist the call. Read about Jeremiah, Jonah. Listen to those who are called to ministry and resist with all of their will but cannot not follow.

“When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him.”

About Jerry

Catechumenate ministry is my passion. I have been involved in the catechumenate since 1980 in both the Roman Catholic and Episcopal branches of the Church. I am a "progressive," ecumenical Christian who is realistic enough to know that the Church has never been "One"; is often not "Holy"; strives to be "Catholic" and is "Apostolic" only when members respect the Tradition rather than the latest customs. I have been fortunate to be able to focus on various elements of philosophy, theology and Christian history during my studies. I am able to bring them all to bear in catechumenate ministry.
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