Did Jesus Use Protection? Studies in Mark, Pt. 23

Have you ever heard someone say, “Whenever you’re angry, you should count to ten or just walk away for a while”? Of course, the line of thinking behind such advice is: “Right now you’re angry and upset, if you stay here, in this moment, things will only get worse and you are liable to hurt someone; it is in everyone’s best interest to spend some time apart.” Now, for my purposes here, I am not really interested in the scenario itself (e.g. the two persons fighting). Instead, I am interested in the point behind the scenario, namely, that sometimes, one of the best ways of protecting the people you care about is to distance yourself from them.

I think about a young man or woman who, after just having a young child, cannot make ends meet to pay their bills or to feed their baby. Turning to the last resort, the father gets involved in the drug game. In the process of making a lot of money, he also finds that he has made a lot of enemies. Before too long, his family is drug into the mess. What started as a means to helping his family, in the end, only hurt it. Now, the best way to help his family is just to stay away them; he is constantly in too much danger for them to be safe.

I can think of a number of examples where, in order to protect the people you care about most, you have to stay away from them. When I read Mark’s account of the Gospel, I wonder if a similar point lies beneath the surface of the text. In other words, I wonder if the reason Jesus moved away from Nazareth, from His family, is because He wanted to protect them? Did He have an acute awareness of just how intense His ministry would be and did He know that if His family were around, they would get drug into it? I think so!

It has often been argued—and I must confess, up to this point I have thought this way too—that in Mark’s Gospel account, Jesus is offensive to His parents and just as well, Jesus’ family is offensive towards Him. But, to disagree with the majority of commentators (especially the social-science scholars, a group which, in a number of ways I consider myself part of), I want to argue that there is another way to understand what is going on in Mark’s work. I want to suggest that when read correctly, neither Jesus nor His family are offensive to one another. Instead, Jesus is protecting His loved ones and similarly, His loved ones are trying to protect Him.

I begin by looking at Mark chapter 3, the passage where Jesus’ relatives come (to His home) with plans to take Him by “force” and they suggest that He is “possessed” (see: Mk. 3.21). Generally, this statement is taken negatively because the text portrays a negative context. But what if another reading of this text suggests that they came to take Jesus by force because they feared that the religio-political situation, in all of its intensity, was going to result in Jesus losing His life? More support for this view might come from what it said a few verses before this story, namely, that in 3.6, the Pharisees and Herodians began “plotting” to kill Jesus. Again, what if this news traveled to Jesus’ family and they came to protect Him?

And what if the statement about Him being out of His mind and being possessed was not meant to be a slander but actually reveals real concern? To put it differently, what if they really did, deep in their souls think He had gone mad; that an evil spirit somehow got hold of Him? This belief was not uncommon in the ancient world. Indeed, one only has to read Mark’s Gospel to be aware of this; it happened to many people! Jesus’ family members thought that it had happened to Him too, perhaps. Or, could it have even been a last ditch effort to try to save Jesus’ life? I mean, today, in court, many people plead “insanity” for their loved ones with the hope that it will save their lives. What if they were doing the same thing for Jesus?

And what if Jesus knew that they would do this type of thing and that is why He moved away from them? It would not only stifle His mission but it would bring them into the middle of all of the political danger and hype. It is clear from Mk. 7. 9-13 (where Jesus criticizes the religious elite for not honoring their fathers and mothers) that Jesus still respected His mother and father and treated them with respect. While it is not central or all that significant to my argument here, I do believe that Joseph was still alive at this time. I tend to think that he is not mentioned much for two reasons: 1) It would create theological tension with Jesus’ relationship to God the Father, and 2) More practically, he was away working, being the breadwinner for his family. (But what if He is mentioned indirectly, for instance, as the basis of the father/son relationship in Jesus’ parables?)

One of the things, in my opinion, that we must recognize when we read Mark’s account is that there is a seeming tension between what Jesus says in Mk. 7 (again, about honoring parents) and the frequent occasions where He engages His kin. However, that tension can be relieved and actually, it really makes the most sense out of the story, when we realize that Jesus is attempting to stay away from His immediate loved ones because He does not want them to get caught in the middle of the dire religio-political situation. Yet, they do not want Him to be in that situation either. So, both parties are using a form of protection towards one another; they want each other to be safe. In the end, though, Mark tells us that despite their trying to protect one another, they were together: “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed Him and cared for His needs…When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body” (Mk. 15.40-1; 16.1).

One question that I raised for myself while thinking on this issue was: Why would Jesus want to protect His family but at the same time expects others to “give up their lives” for Him? My answer to this is that Jesus expects all of His followers to be willing to “give up their lives” for Him; nobody is exempt from that and neither was Jesus’ family. But He wanted that sacrifice of aligning oneself with Him to come by choice, which, His blood-relatives did not necessarily have; they were, by default, associated with Him. So, this was not association by “choice,” it was automatic association.

So, in light of the eye-catching question in the title of this post “Did Jesus Use Protection?” I would have to say, “Yes, Jesus did use protection; He wanted His family to be safe and above all, for their affiliation with Him to be more about choosing to be affiliated with Him than having to be.” And, no doubt, the same is true for us!

No comments:

Post a Comment