By Dr. Mickey Anders
Have you ever accused someone of being out of their mind? Probably. We are not unaccustomed to making such a statement about people we know today. A friend of yours takes a bungee jump off a high tower, and you ask, “Has he gone out of his mind?” On a lark, another friend takes a sky diving lesson and jumps out of a perfectly good airplane, and you ask, “Has she gone out of her mind?” A person of modest income decides to purchase a house obviously beyond his means, and you ask, “Has he gone out of his mind?” There are lots of situations in which we might ask that question of someone we know, but we are shocked when someone asks that question of Jesus. In verse 21, we learn that people were saying, “He is insane.”
I believe this shocking statement can help us to understand the ways some people viewed Jesus during his early ministry. Our text tells us that some people were quite alarmed by Jesus’ behavior.
First, we find that his family was alarmed. The text says, When his friends heard it, they went out to seize him: for they said, “He is insane.”
We might take a benevolent interpretation of the family’s action and suggest that they were merely concerned that Jesus was taking sufficient physical care of himself. In this case, the family was taking an intervention action out of loving concern and support for him. They wanted to make sure he was eating right and not working too hard. I personally doubt this interpretation.
I think a more accurate view is that the family had a total lack of sympathy for the nature of Jesus’ ministry. In fact, we read in John 7:5, “His brothers didn’t believe in him.”
Some people believe Jesus performed many miraculous deeds all of his life. They believe Jesus was so divine that everyone who knew him would be amazed at this perfect human being. I prefer to emphasize the humanity of Jesus and believe that the first miracle he ever performed was at the wedding in Cana. I believe he grew up as a normal boy. His brothers who lived with him just thought of him as a brother. They were surprised when he began preaching. When they learned of some of the things he was saying, they wanted him to quit. They came as a group ready to seize him, get him away from the crowds, and have him deprogrammed. When they finally arrived, there was such a crowd that they could not get in to see him. They sent him a message, but he left them standing on the outside, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He acknowledged no special ties or obligation to them.
Jesus also alarmed the Pharisees, but we are much more familiar with their negative reactions. The Pharisees from Jerusalem had made the considerable journey to Galilee to look into this Jesus sensation. They said his power was not a good power. He had been taken over by Beelzebul, an unclean, satanic, demonic spirit. They warned the crowds about him.
Their reaction led Jesus to make his statement about the unpardonable sin. It’s a statement that has frequently been misinterpreted and has unnecessarily disturbed many people.
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Lots of people worry that they have committed the unpardonable sin. When you become aware of the consequences of sin, you often feel that your sin is unforgivable. Usually that really means that we can’t forgive ourselves. I believe God is often much more forgiving of our sins that we are.
But read the passage carefully, and you will find that Jesus was saying that the religious leaders could not tell the difference between God’s work and Satan’s work. Vincent Taylor describes their situation, “It is a perversion of Spirit, which, in defiance of moral values, elects to call light darkness.” By such intentional perversion they have rendered themselves incapable of receiving forgiveness and so are morally liable for God’s judgment of their ‘eternal sin.'” (Charles Scalise, Ministers Manual for 1991, p. 109)
William Barclay explains it this way: “If a man, by repeated refusals of God’s guidance, has lost the ability to recognize goodness when he sees it, if he has got his moral values inverted until evil to him is good and good to him is evil, then, even when he is confronted by Jesus, he is conscious of no sin; he cannot repent and therefore he can never be forgiven.”
I believe the only unforgivable sin is to refuse the forgiveness of God. Those who refuse to accept the provision of salvation offered by Christ, those who refuse to throw themselves on the mercy of God, those who refuse to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord are the only ones who have committed the unpardonable sin.
At the end of our passage, Jesus turns again to address the issue of family when he asks, “Behold, my mother and my brothers?” In his reply, Jesus offered a redefinition of family, and in the process gave a great definition of the church. He portrays a vision of the family of God. Jesus acknowledges that discipleship may cost our old, natural family ties. But if we do the will of God, we will discover ourselves as members of the new family of God.
Despite Jesus disappointment that his family and the scribes rejected him, he proclaims the good news that all who do the will of God will be accepted into the family of God.
Jesus’ statement moves the value of human relationships beyond the physical to the spiritual. I believe he is saying that as important as physical relationships are, they are not as important as spiritual relationships.
And I think this is good news because Mother’s Day is not a happy occasion for everyone. Some people were abused by their mothers. Others think of this as a very sad holiday because they wanted to be mothers and could not. But for all of us in the family of faith, we can celebrate because Jesus clearly pointed out that you don’t have to be a physical mother to have the kind of relationships that mothers have at their best. Being a mother is not so much about biology as it is about relationships.
This week I received a wonderful anonymous article from William Peake on a lectionary listserv. It describes a scene that took place when a mother and her daughter are talking. I believe it describes the kind of relationships that we can all celebrate on a family holiday like this. Here is what it said:
We are sitting at lunch when my daughter casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of “starting a family.” “We’re taking a survey,” she says, half-joking. “Do you think I should have a baby?”
“It will change your life,” I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral.
“I know,” she says, “no more sleeping in on weekends, no more spontaneous vacations….”
But that is not what I meant at all. I look at my daughter, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes. I want to tell her that the physical wounds of childbearing will heal, but that becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will forever be vulnerable.
I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without asking “What if that had been MY child?” That every plane crash, every house fire will haunt her. That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die.
I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub. That an urgent call of “Mom!” will cause her to drop a souffle or her best crystal without a moment’s hesitation.
I feel I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she will be professionally derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for child care, but one day she will be going into an important business meeting and she will think of her baby’s sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of her discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure her baby is all right.
I want my daughter to know that everyday decisions will no longer be routine. That a five year old boy’s desire to go to the men’s room rather than the women’s at McDonald’s will become a major dilemma. That right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in that restroom. However decisive she may be at the office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother.
Looking at my attractive daughter, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself. That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. That she would give it up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years-not to accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her child accomplish theirs.
My daughter’s relationship with her husband will change, but not in the way she thinks. I wish she could understand how much more you can love a man who is careful to powder the baby or who never hesitates to play with his child. I think she should know that she will fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic.
I wish my daughter could sense the bond she will feel with women throughout history who have tried to stop war, prejudice and drunk driving. I hope she will understand why I can think rationally about most issues, but become temporarily insane when I discuss the threat of nuclear war to my children’s future. I want to describe to my daughter the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike. I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or a cat for the first time. I want her to taste the joy that is so real it actually hurts.
My daughter’s quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes. “You’ll never regret it,” I finally say. Then I reach across the table, squeeze my daughter’s hand and offer a silent prayer for her, and for me, and for all of the mere mortal women who stumble their way into this most wonderful of callings. This blessed gift from God . . . that of being a Mother.
Isn’t that a wonderful description of motherhood? It’s so good because it emphasizes the wonder of sacrificial love. And that love we can experience in the family of faith as well.
Who is my mother? Who is my brother? Those who do the will of God. Those who love like Jesus loved. Those who, regardless of their biological relationship, capture the spirit of sacrificial love that God clearly demonstrated in Jesus Christ.
The Good News for all of us on this Mother’s Day is that God loves each one of us with a Mother’s Love, a sacrificial love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
I wonder how you will respond to God’s great love for you.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2000, Mickey Anders. Used by permission.