We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, March 23, 2012

Crazy Exorcist - Mark 3:20-21(xlv)

Lion of St. Mark, Piazza San Marco, Venice
This posting is the 45th in a series (originally written in 1998) looking at the Gospel of Mark from the perspective of a historian. The first posting in this series is (here).

Although we have no dates, it is clear that Mark contains a chronology of events. By the time of this passage (Mark 3:20-21), Jesus' popularity among many was increasing even as the over class was increasingly opposed to him. Jesus' popularity is underscored by the fact that the crowd that assembled at Jesus' home (TEV, RSV, JB, Goodspeed, & AV as a variant reading all state that Jesus "went home") made such great demands that both he and his disciples "had no time to eat." (TEV) Even with the addition of the Twelve as preachers and exorcists, Jesus' popularity had become an even greater burden than before.

Jesus' reputation, however, was a mixed one. There were those who were convinced that Jesus had gone mad. Mark, typically, gives us no details as to what caused them to think this way. Perhaps his teaching was so outlandish that many couldn't accept it. Or, again, it may have been Jesus' penchant for attacking powerful interest groups that caused some to doubt his sanity. In any event, the rumor spread that Jesus had become mentally unbalance until it reached Jesus' family in Nazareth.

It is significant that neither Matthew nor Luke contain this passage. Only Mark reports the impression that Jesus was crazy. His purpose in doing so might have been to reinforce even further the idea that Jesus' divine identity wasn't apparent to those around him. Those who knew Jesus saw him only as a man. I'd like to return to this point in the next posting and speculate on why the author of Mark may have been so insistent that Jesus wasn't obviously anything more than a man.