Sometimes when I listen to the Gospel readings at Mass or read the Bible at home, the stories are familiar enough that I just gloss over them without thinking very deeply. After all, I’ve heard the various events described in the gospels dozens of times during my life.
Well, once in a while something in the gospels just jumps out in a new and different way. That’s what happened to me recently when I was reading from Mark’s gospel, chapter 3. Jesus was healing people and big crowds started following Him. There was a lot of “buzz” around Jesus, and when one particularly large crowd gathered to see Him, this is what we read in verses 21 and 22: “When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘By the prince of demons he drives out demons.’”
So, the religious authorities from the Temple were trying to discredit Jesus and claimed He was demon possessed. That’s nothing new. We know the Pharisees and scribes from the big city didn’t like Jesus and were upset at the large crowds that came out to hear Him.
But did you catch that first sentence about Jesus’ relatives? The Bible says that Jesus’ aunts and uncles and cousins thought He was nuts! They are quoted as saying, “He is out of his mind.” Also, it says they wanted to seize Him, which means have Him locked up!
Well, I’m not completely sure about the locked up part, since I’m not familiar with the state of mental health services in first century Palestine. I suspect emotional counseling wasn’t very impressive back then, even if you had a good health insurance plan through your employer. (That’s a little joke, by the way. There was no such thing as health insurance back then, and no such thing as mental health services, either.)
Years ago, if someone was suffering from mental health problems, the family probably brought the person home and prevented him or her from going outside. The person likely was a major embarrassment to the family, and they did their best to keep the afflicted soul out of sight so the neighbors would not gossip so much. (By the way, this is just another reason we all should be thankful we live in the 21st century, where mental health problems are better understood and can be treated successfully, rather than the old method of assuming the person was possessed by a demon and needed to be banished from community life.)
Anyway, Jesus’ own relatives were convinced He was out of His mind. They were so embarrassed they wanted to drag Him home and lock Him away so no one could see how insane He was. Wow, and I thought it was uncomfortable to have some of my relatives think I’m a “religious fanatic” because I go to Mass each week, write these essays, and occasionally give talks at churches.
The impression I’ve always gotten from the gospel accounts is that the common folk in the countryside were attracted to Jesus and His message, while the sophisticated religious rulers in Jerusalem were unimpressed and wanted to stop Him. But this episode from Mark’s gospel makes it clear that not everyone in the rural regions were attracted to Jesus, especially His own blood relatives.
How do you think that made Jesus feel? Sure, He already knew the leaders in Jerusalem would oppose Him. But what about Uncle Lou? Auntie Helen? Cousin Lenny? Did Jesus expect these loved ones He’d known His whole life to completely misunderstand His divine mission and try to stop Him?
I guess this Gospel story is meant to teach us a couple of things. First, if God calls us to do a particular task, we must do it even when we face opposition. Second, if even Jesus had difficulties with His relatives, we shouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see eye-to-eye with our relatives once in a while.
At least in my case, my loved ones don’t claim I’m out of my mind. I think.