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"People Said He Was Out Of His Mind"

January 22, 2011

This brief passage from Mark’s Gospel conceals a larger issue: the growing tension between Jesus and his family. In the ancient world, family was all important. The family of Jesus felt they ought to step in and protect him, for the word was that he was possessed. Jesus was not like any other rabbi, that much was clear. He spoke impressively and his sharp arguments always left his interlocutors, the Pharisees and their theologians, nonplussed. They could never get the better of him. He spoke with inborn authority. Even more, God’s power seemed to come out of him and heal all those he came in contact with. It’s this which made him so phenomenally popular; it’s said that such crowds collected round him and his disciples that they had no chance to eat. Naturally, his enemies sought to denigrate him by claiming that it was demonic power through which he cured people. They insinuated that he was possessed, out of his mind. This is why Jesus’s family felt that they should take charge, and perhaps lock him up for some time ‘for his own good’. Nothing surprising in this, for all societies, specially traditional ones, don’t like anyone who upsets conventions, who challenges ways of behavior and compels people to re-think their beliefs. The first tactic is to ridicule such reformers, then to make them seem dangerous. This the Pharisees and their allies did, but without much success. Sooner than later, they would have to eliminate Jesus. This, alas, is the inevitable destiny of all who work to do good in an evil and imperfect world.
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