Jesus Isn’t Safe
New Revised Standard Version
Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
In his beloved series, The Chronicles of Narnia, author C.S. Lewis tells of life in a magical land full of talking animals, unusual characters, and adventures pitting the forces of good and evil against one another for the children who visit. The first book in the series, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, introduces the reader to Narnia. Two brothers, Peter and Edmund, and their sisters, Susan, and Lucy, find their way there through a wardrobe in the house they are sent to for safety during World War II.
The egotistical and evil White Witch is in control of the kingdom of Narnia. Under her watch the once verdant land has turned into a frozen, snow-covered unhospitable place. The residents of Narnia live in fear of the White Witch.
When the children find their way to Narnia, they are soon met by the Beaver who gives them the lay of the land, warning them of the danger ahead. Unbeknownst to them, their arrival signaled the beginning of a new era in Narnia. An awakening from the freeze.
Noting the changes, the Beaver tells them, “Aslan is on the move.”
Lucy asks what Aslan is like: “Is he a man?”
“Certainly not!” says the Beaver. “He is a great lion.”
“Is he safe?
“Who said anything about safe?” the Beaver responds. “But he is good. He’s the king!”
What does it mean to be safe? Most people wouldn’t think a lion running around loose was safe. In a zoo behind glass or a fence – that’s a safe place to encounter a lion. But you wouldn’t want to meet that lion in a place that doesn’t feel safe to you.
We like to have a place or two that feel safe. For many, that place is where you live. It is familiar. A place to relax. Arranged and decorated how you like it. Locks on the doors. A fence, a peep hole in the door, and an alarm system if you want. Whatever you need for it to feel like a safe space can be there.
We protect our safe space – from intruders, nosy neighbors, strangers, and door-to-door salespeople. You might have seen the video this week of the woman who pushed a bear off the stone ledge in her yard to protect her dog. She did what it took to keep her home (and pets) safe!
If we expand our notion of safety beyond the confines of our home, we will find that our desire for being safe influences what we choose to do and how we do those things. People tend to have jobs that feel safe (or comfortable), trusted friends, and daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly routines. Of course, people have different ideas of what is safe. Jumping out of an airplane or climbing a rock face roped to a small piton feels safe for some while others would find those activities terrifying.
The desire to be safe extends to the spiritual life as well. We want to believe in a God who watches over us, cares about us, protects us, and loves us. The God we want is one who is known to us and that we are comfortable with. Not a God who disrupts our life.
We are drawn to Jesus, God in the flesh because of who we see him as. He is caring, heals the sick, teaches good things, and spends time with ordinary people like us. The passages in the gospels that describe Jesus in this way are the ones we prefer. The simplicity of the song, “Jesus Loves Me” resonates with us.
Then we come to Jesus here in Mark chapter 3. This is not the Jesus we are drawn to. This Jesus isn’t the caring, loving one we sing about. Who is this?
The lead-in to this passage, the first two and a half chapters of Mark’s gospel, has an impressive list of healings and casting out of demons. Things happen quickly. People are healed immediately. The disciples are called, and they leave immediately to follow Jesus. Jesus even heals a man on the Sabbath angering the religious leaders who believed he was breaking the law.
Emotions run high and the situation is intense at this point. The crowds are gathered around Jesus wanting to see more and hear more from the amazing teacher and healer. At the same time, others are claiming he is “out of his mind.” He is outside of the expected and/or desired behavior. He is too popular, too powerful, and includes too many outsiders in his circle. Jesus isn’t following the “rules.”
Maybe Jesus has gone beyond their minds. Maybe he is beyond our minds. Beyond our expectations and what we imagine him to be. This is not the Jesus we picture, the one we want to follow, the one we believe in. This Jesus is not limited by rules and traditions. He is more inclusive, offering mercy and grace to all.
In answer to the questions about him, Jesus tells two parables. In the first, he tells us that a house divided cannot stand. That it is not possible for Satan to cast out Satan. In a sense, he says that no one can work together if they have different agendas. Maybe they can tolerate one another or live together in uneasiness. You can’t embrace some people and reject others. Yet, this is what we see all around us in society. Stand-offs between opposing parties. Little concern for the common good. Fake news vs. real news. Persecution of people who look or act different or from different ethnic groups. A “my way or the highway” attitude. We see it in the church, too. The way we did it before vs. the way we could do it now.
In the second parable, Jesus says that a strong man must be tied up before his house can be plundered. Before anything else can happen. Before evil can be destroyed. He tells his listeners, and us, that evil is the root cause of the hurtful ways we treat one another. Of the stereotypes and oppressive structures of society. Of untruths that drive persecution and violence. Of the memories and regrets that shut down possibilities. Whatever exerts negative influence over us and holds us hostage. Whatever stops us from doing things Jesus’ way.
Tying up the strong man, resisting evil, requires putting yourself on the line. It requires taking risks and stepping outside the comfortable box we have created for us to live in. Resisting evil and fighting against it requires following the example of the Jesus we see here in Mark.
There are many instances of Jesus telling those who want to be his disciples that they must leave other priorities behind to follow him and do God’s will. Leave behind your family – no time to say goodbye. Let someone else plow the field. Let others bury the dead. Following Jesus requires putting God first and foremost in your life.
Just like Aslan the lion, the Christ-like character in the Chronicles of Narnia, Jesus isn’t safe. He is compassionate and loving, but he is also demanding and daring. But just because Jesus isn’t who we expect him to be, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow his example and to follow him.
Rather, like the crowds that gather, we are to allow ourselves to be drawn to him. To Jesus as he is. The one who is radical, goes against the grain, and stands up to opposition. And the one who loves unconditionally, even those others dismiss as unlovable.
This Jesus is the one we are to follow. The multifaceted teacher who comforts and cares all people while, at the same time, embracing and standing up for those who are ignored, forgotten, persecuted, and hated. Jesus is the one who goes beyond the people who are easy to love to those who are what we might see as difficult people or even evil people.
Following Jesus as he is presented in the entirety of the gospels requires us to step out of our carefully constructed comfortable box into a circle of inclusiveness. A circle that includes those we disagree with, who don’t see things our way, and those who are different from us. We are to learn to love everyone just as Jesus did and does.
Pursuing God, doing God’s will are what matter most to Jesus. That is the point of the final part of this passage. Those who follow God and do what God wants are included in Jesus’ family. Following Jesus requires that pursuing God, doing God’s will matter most to us. In fact, it ought to matter so much that we are willing to become risk-takers who step into an unsafe world, a world beset by evil, and to embrace all and invite everyone to become part of Jesus’ family.