Jesus arrives “with his disciples” at the house, also translated as home. As with his first arrival home (cf. Mk 2:1-12), the crowds gather again in overwhelming numbers. In addition to the disciples, specifically being mentioned this time, we can also read that the relatives of Jesus are near. “When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’” (Mk 3:21). This reaction is certainly an interesting way to welcome Jesus back.
What is it that his relatives have heard about him that has gotten them so riled up? Was it that the vast number that had gathered was causing damage, trampling over items, breaking pottery, or acting in an unruly and boisterous fashion? We just read a few days ago how Jesus was concerned that he might be crushed by the crowds. Were undesirables, those on the peripheries, sinners, those on the other side of the tracks, coming into town? We know his disciples were quite the motley crew.
From a more spiritual take, the number would not have been lost on anyone gathered. The Messiah was to usher in the gathering of the nations. Jesus choosing and commissioning twelve Apostles, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, thus continuing and extending his healing, preaching on his own authority, is a big change from the carpenter next door who they all grew up with.
We don’t know, but the fact that they were ready to “seize him” because they thought that, “He [was] out of his mind” says that something about Jesus was really pressing their buttons. Jesus very early on in his public ministry is already receiving a growing chorus of resistance from the Scribes and Pharisees, demons and unclean spirits, and now his own relatives. Jesus continues forward and refuses to water down his message or adjust his ministry. If anything he doubles down, as is recorded not in Mark but Matthew 10:37: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;” and even stronger in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus calls us to live a life that is dedicated to him and the will of his Father and as we begin to step out in a public way to live our faith, there will be push back from all quarters. Especially, those who we have known us all our lives. We place others in and are placed in boxes by others. Expectations and prejudgments abound. It is hard enough for us to stretch out of our comfort zone, to go beyond prior established boundaries, but as we do so, those in our realm of influence, those who observe us making a move in that direction, consciously, or more often unconsciously, may feel threatened.
Living a life of faith, of loving and willing the good of others, especially those outside of our societal or accepted boundaries, those that are “different”, those that are other, though we have been created to and find fulfillment in doing so, means we are taking a risk. We risk being misunderstood, labeled, rejected, and thought of as losing our minds. Yet, risk we must, if we are to follow the will of Jesus, if we are to grow in holiness, and to become saints. As we risk, we are to remain faithful, true to who God is calling us to be. We are also to resist the temptation to strike back negatively when challenged and instead radiate the light of Jesus. This will continue to repel some who still prefer the darkness, but may just draw some others in from the shadows.
In coming to encounter and know Jesus we are going to be transformed, we cannot stay the same. Yet we are hesitant to, or fear, change. The plateau, the valley is comfortable, but that is not the path Jesus would have us walk. As Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman said: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
Today, Saturday, January 22, we are reminded that the status quo is unacceptable. The death of the unborn and the economic, societal, and political pressures that create the platforms of this choice are not acceptable. Nor is the oppressive governments and societal systems that oppress the poor and vulnerable acceptable. Let us join the many today who will speak for the protection of those in the womb as it is the day of prayer for the legal protection of the unborn. May we also celebrate the beatification of Fr. Rutilio Grande, SJ, along with Fr. Cosme Spessottoin, Manuel Solórzano, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, in El Salvador. Fr. Rutilio gave his life in 1977 because he was willing to be a voice for farm workers and peasants who were being oppressed and denied just and sustainable access to fair wages.
When we do not see the dignity of the person at each stage of life and in each situation of life as important, we are less human. As Pope Francis wrote, “None of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and social justice” (Evangelii Gaudium, 201). The only difference between the unborn and us is that they are smaller and more vulnerable. The only difference between those who are oppressed is that they are denied the dignity of equal access. May we pray and work to change systems of oppression that support dehumanization and work to promote the dignity of each human life from the womb to the tomb and each stage in between.
Photo: Icon of Rutilio Grande, S.J., by William Hart McNichols