Some Crazy Devil
A sermon based on Mark 3:20-35
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on June 7, 2015
If you have not heard already, I love the game of baseball. I recently came across a funny story about a conceited rookie pitcher in his major league debut who as a starter walked the first five batters.When the manager came to the mound signaling he was taking him out of the game the pitcher slammed his glove on the mound and yelled at the manager “Are you out of your mind? I’ve got a no-hitter going!”
Have you ever noticed that people who oppose others efforts often call those they oppose crazy or connect them with Satan or some sort of evil? Rather than address the issue with a coherent argument, they try to sully their opponents with “he’s out of his mind” or “in cahoots with the devil” assertions. I used to think that maybe this was just a modern American phenomenon. We tend to attack almost everyone who ever gets in the limelight.
Politicians. Movie stars. Sports heroes. Religious people. Philanthropists. Even volunteers working in the community. There seems to be a strange notion that if we oppose what someone is doing we are free to attack them personally and meanly or even slanderously.
We can see this in the local letters-to-the-editor. People who don’t like someone’s politics, volunteer work or religion tend to weigh a good part of their arguments on the side of calling those they oppose names, questioning their sanity or even claiming they are ungodly and doing the devil’s work. Right?
I may be right about that, but I am apparently wrong about it being just a modern American cultural thing. Today’s scripture suggests it’s been the fallback position for millennia for those who are without intelligent arguments or want to divert attention from the issues, or who are just plain mean.
Maybe I am overly sensitive to this, because it tends to be the tact people who oppose progressive Christianity often take. It has been suggested more than once in my life that my assertions that Jesus’ teachings mean we really are to love everyone, to care about their well being are made because I am in cahoots with the devil. Ironically I don’t even believe in the devil . . . let alone am in cahoots with anyone, unless you count Jesus.
It helps me to know that Jesus faced such nonsense when he asserted we are to love everyone, to really care about their well being. In fact, I now consider it a sign I Progressive Christians are the correct path. See, when you teach, preach or try to provide Jesus Way of unconditional love, opponents of that Way of love have for at least two-thousand years been calling the notion crazy and devil derived.
And scholars believe Jesus was very probably called crazy and in league with the devil during his ministry. The thinking is that the author of Mark would not have asserted such a thing on his own since it scandalizes the image of Jesus. Why would Mark – or any follower of Jesus– make it up?
Indeed the authors of Matthew and Luke, who borrowed a lot from the gospel of Mark intentionally left this part of Mark out. It seems that they did not want to promote the history that Jesus was thought of as crazy and possessed by demons.
My guess is that a lot of us here have not heard much about these verses for the same reason – churches and preachers are not all that keen to promote it today either. It’s simply not flattering to think that Jesus’ own family claimed he was out of his mind.
And it is not any better or more flattering to know that legal scholars (what we could fairly call Bible experts of the day), claimed Jesus was possessed by Beelzebul. Beelzebul is a Bible name for the devil, a lesser deity that Jesus refers to as Satan in the text.
So here’s the ugly truth we can derive from verse 21and 22 that have Jesus out of his mind and in league with the devil: Jesus was very likely really called what amounts to a crazy devil. And the folks who called him that meant it literally.
We can easily hear how that is not flattering. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why we don’t have a hymn called “Jesus the Crazy Devil” or why most of us probably did not hear sermons on these two verses growing up.
We’ve got “crazy,” and we’ve got “devil” going for Jesus. Let’s start with crazy. Why would Jesus’ family call him crazy? I’ve heard a number of theories, like Jesus may have seemed insane because he was claiming to be God or God’s Son or the Messiah. But it is not very likely that Jesus made a claim in his pre-Easter life that he was the Messiah or God-like. Many scholars think that such claims about Jesus were not made by anyone until after the first Easter. Indeed Mark- the earliest gospel– does not record Jesus making such claims abut himself. Consequently it’s not likely that in our Markan text today Jesus’ family is calling him crazy– “out of his mind” based on Jesus telling people he was God or the Son of God or the Messiah.
So why did they do this? We do not know for sure . . . but perhaps it was because his conduct was out of the ordinary for his roots. You know, so way off the mark from how he was raised that he seemed crazy to them. A sorta “This is not the way we raised him” response. That makes sense. Families are not always on board with what offspring or siblings choose to do.
Or maybe it was beyond just family norms. Because of the way Jesus lived he was considered crazy by others. If I told you I met a homeless wanderer last week standing up in town squares and hillsides around Ohio preaching about God, healing people, casting out demons and calling into question the laws and rules and ways of our culture and how we are being governed, we’d probably all have some kind of image in our head of someone out of his mind or a bit crazy, right? Jesus was doing that kinda stuff in 1st Century Palestine. Jesus’ was behaving “alarmingly abnormal.” 3 Is that the definition of crazy? To some, perhaps so
Maybe, though, and this is one of my theories on the topic, maybe Jesus’ family knew his conduct opposing oppression was heading for a clash with Rome which could only end one of two ways:
- Jesus would get arrested and convicted and executed; or
- Jesus would get arrested convicted and let go under a Roman rule of law called which means without the mastery of the mind, in other words, not guilty by reason of insanity.
See –and again this is my thinking– maybe Jesus’ family tried to save his life by claiming he was out of his mind, he was not all there. Because when you are crazy you cannot have the requisite mind set to intend to do criminal harm and so cannot be held accountable. We have that rule of law today, and they had it back then. Maybe Jesus’ mom and siblings at some point tried to save Jesus’ life by calling into question his sanity.
One way or another Jesus’ acts of kindness and love and compassion, his overt actions that sought justice for the oppressed, were probably the root cause of this recorded memory that Jesus’ family called him crazy.
But Jesus’ theological opponents had a different tact. They blamed it on something much more sinister, something evil. They claimed (quote) “He’s possessed by Beelzebul. He throws out demons with the authority of the ruler of demons.” (end quote). These are legal experts from Jerusalem making the claim, not some letter-to-the-editor by an uptight local religious person. It’s more like a respected Harvard Divinity professor claiming evil’s a foot in the work of Jesus.
Interestingly this claim that the devil’s possessed Jesus also makes Jesus not guilty for his deeds, but rather Satan. To paraphrase that old Flip Wilson routine, “The Devil made Jesus do it.” And so how can Jesus be responsible? . . . But the opponents point is not Jesus’ innocence, but the ungodliness of his Way. It’s more along the lines of it’s the devil doing, not God’s doing.
Jesus response to the accusations is very clever. He not only disproves he is crazy by providing a sane and coherent answer but he also defeats the idea the devil made him do it. He does this by famously arguing:
“How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.
Basically Jesus is saying the devil does not throw out the devil’s demons . . .that makes no sense. To throw out the devil’s demons is to work to stop the devil. That’s simple logic. And true. Evil does not stop evil . . so Jesus cannot be working for evil.
And then we are told that in response to legal experts claiming that he personally had an unclean spirit he goes on to say:
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”
This saying is often taken out of context as an isolated verse to claim we cannot be forgiven for cursing the Holy Spirit. But in context it is about those who claim Christ has an unclean spirit. It’s not about someone cursing the Holy Spirit and never being able to undo that curse and going to hell, which is along the lines of what I was taught as a youth. It’s about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit by those who endlessly refuse to acknowledge the Spirit is in Christ’s work in the world. If you deny the Holy Spirit is in Christ’s way, you miss the target God’s aiming you at–which is what “sin” means, to miss the target. Here’s how Marcus Borg puts it
In Mark’s context, [the] meaning is clear: if you do not perceive the presence of God’s Spirit in Jesus, if you think whatever was in him came from somewhere else, your life will not change. This passage is not about how to get into heaven. Rather, not discerning the Spirit in Jesus is to stay the way you are and to fail to participate in the dream of God. 4
You cannot get forgiveness if you don’t get that Jesus and his Way are not crazy, or that his message is not from the devil. You disrespect the Spirit of God at work if you call Jesus’ loving way things like, crazy or the devils’ work. If we get stuck in that loop then we will miss hitting the mark God aims us at forever. That’s logical too.
This applies to religious debates today. And just like back in Jesus’ day you can tell who it applies to because they still call those who preach and teach and act out Jesus’ message of unconditional love, as crazy or of the devil or both. If some think it is crazy for Christians to love unconditionally, then I say let them call us crazy . . . Crazy as Jesus.
And to those who think it is the devil’s work to defeat evil with unconditional love, then we can ask as Jesus did “How can Satan cast out Satan?” If love defeats evil – and surely it does– it cannot be the devil’s work. If God is love, how can love be Satan’s doing? That’s plain and simple. If folks want to still call Jesus’ work the work of the devil, that’s their problem and according to scripture it is a sin cycle will be stuck in long as they continue to deny the Spirit is at work in Christ providing unconditional love and working toward justice in Christian’s today.
So here’s the thing, if anyone asks you what the sermon was about today, you can tell them you are pretty sure you heard the minister say that we are called to be crazy devils . . . But make sure you point out I meant the same type of crazy devil Jesus was to his opponents in the world.
May we – like Jesus– be love in the world even if people call us crazy or on the side of demons. Because it is not true. We are on Christ’s side!
1. Garofolo, Andrew, Early Implications of the Insanity Defense an online essay at http://historyforensicpsych.umwblogs.org/the-insanity-defense-outline-by-andrew-garofolo/early-implications-of-the-insanity-defense/
2. Borg, Marcus, The Gospel of Mark, p 34.
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2015 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED