Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jesus Taken Out of Context

"The people of Capernaum bringing Jesus many to heal"
Now Jesus went home, and a crowd gathered so that they were not able to eat. When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, “He is out of his mind” (Mk 3:20-21).

In just these two verses, there is much information we can glean about the public ministry of Jesus and the wide-reaching and powerful effect He had upon everyone everywhere He went.  And as news traveled about Him, we see that He also powerfully affected even those communities He did not visit. It is with His newly-appointed Apostles accompanying Him that Jesus returns home, that is, to Capernaum.  We know that Jesus does not return alone, as we read that "they were not able to eat" because of the crowd of people that had gathered there.  We can also infer from the text that Jesus' family in Nazareth had received information from afar about the recent events in the life of Jesus-- those same events as told in Mark's Gospel thus far-- and that what they heard had apparently upset them to such an extent that they had decided to go to Capernaum to see for themselves what Jesus was doing.

On the other hand, as today's Gospel reading consists of these two verses alone, because they are considered in isolation from the texts which precede and follow, their full meaning is not easily understood. But with the understanding that the Church deliberately presents this reading as such for our reflection, perhaps it is no coincidence that the very consternation it elicits in us in this form reflects what is apparently in the hearts and minds of the people about whom this text was written. We thereby experience something of what the named persons experienced. Perhaps this is exactly what the Holy Spirit intended we experience today, towards our better understanding and appreciating Scripture as the Living Word, to be read "within the living tradition of the whole Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 113 2).

Adding to the lack of clarity in the meaning of this text is the great variation among the many translations and versions of the Bible regarding both the identities and the intentions of Jesus' relations. Some versions even replace "family" with "friends," but such a rendering does not seem consistent with the texts that follow, which specifically report that Jesus' "mother and brothers" had come and were outside, looking for Him (Mk. 3:32). Translations also differ on the reason for the appearance of Jesus' family in Capernaum, saying that they were coming to "restrain," "take charge of," "seize," or "take custody of" Jesus, because they had apparently heard from their community that Jesus was behaving as one who had lost His mind. The inference is therefore that Jesus, like one possessed (according to the Pharisees), was surely a threat to His family's reputation and honor, or even to Himself and to others.

But as with these two verses, this assessment of Jesus' sanity was a statement made out of context; that is to say, was removed from the facts and based upon rumor likely spread by those who wished Him harm. It certainly had not come from the mouths of any of the many people whom Jesus had healed or delivered from evil. Likewise, the reaction of panic to these rumors that Jesus was not in his right mind came from people who, while related to Him, had not witnessed any of the events for themselves. Unlike the Apostles, Jesus' family had not been "with Him" (Mk 13:14). And unlike the Apostles, it would seem that they-- however innocent, misinformed and well-meaning-- are intent upon seeking out Jesus to bring Him back home; not to share in His work, but to unwittingly prevent Him from accomplishing what the Father had appointed Him to do.

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. 
He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God,  
to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation 
nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God.  
And the Word became flesh 
and made his dwelling among us, 
and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, 
full of grace and truth (John 1:10-14).

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