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How difficult it is for persons to recognize Jesus. According to the Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus' own family struggled with this. Rather than seeing him as the incarnation of God acting for good, healing the sick and freeing those possessed by evil spirits, Jesus' mother and siblings see him as a deranged son and brother; as one who has gone off the deep end, embarrassing and humiliating the good family name and needing to be taken home. The religious leaders, the scribes who had been taught to recognize the Messiah when he came had a similar problem. They looked at Jesus and thought they saw Beelzebub, Satan himself. "He has Beelzebub, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons (vs. 22b)," they said.
We might say that Jesus' family and those scribes had reason to not believe that the one before them was the very Son of God. After all they had not yet known the full glory of Jesus; they were witnesses of Jesus' miracles, hearers of his extraordinary teachings, but they had not experienced Jesus' death and resurrection, nor been filled with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Thus far they knew Jesus only in part. Can we blame them for not recognizing who Jesus is?
It is too early in the divine story to blame Jesus' family and the scribes for not recognizing him. But in saying that, what of us? We know the full story. We know Jesus' teachings, we know of his judgments over life and we know of his sacrifice for our redemption, we know of his crucifixion, his death and resurrection. We know of the outpouring of His Spirit, and the building up of his church. We know, but do we believe? It is in believing that we are able to recognize and fully know Jesus. It is hard to believe in Jesus, though, when everything he does and teaches seems so contrary to the way things are. It wasn't just anything that Jesus had done to have his family and the scribes think that he was a crazy man working for Satan. Matthew and Luke fill in the story for us. Jesus had cast out a demon that made a man mute. When the demon had left the man, the man spoke. (Luke 11:14) The crowd that saw what Jesus had done was amazed and said, "Never has anything like this been seen in Israel (Matthew 9:33b)."
A woman I knew and loved suffered from severe debilitating arthritis in her hands. I remember the feel and look of those hands. They had become too large for her body; deformed with grotesque knuckles, and fingers so crooked they looked like the roots of an old tree. If you held her hands too tightly, she would flinch in pain that could be seen all over her face. Her arthritis was such that her hands became almost useless to her. She was a woman of faith, though, and one day she placed her affliction in the hands of Jesus, ready to continue suffering with his support, but open to the possibility of his healing touch.
The woman went on with her life and her arthritis. And then one morning while having coffee her daughter noticed something amazing. The woman was holding her full cup of coffee with one hand like a person who had no difficulty with such a task. "Mother, since when have you been able to hold your cup of coffee that way?" asked the daughter. For some time the woman had only been able to get her coffee cup to her lips through the use of both her hands and even then with great difficulty. The woman unaware of what she was doing, didn't know how to answer. Through her daughter's questioning she suddenly realized that the pain in her hands was gone. She was healed. She knew that Jesus had healed her. The pain was gone for the rest of her life, but her hands remained ugly and deformed, a witness in themselves of a miraculous healing.
A colleague grew up in the slums of a large city. Fatherless with a mother forced to leave him and his brothers and sisters alone while she worked so that they could eat, he quickly fell into the evil of the urban streets. A drug addict by the time he was an adolescent, he was estranged from his family and found himself homeless, sleeping wherever he happened to fall. One of his brothers died a victim of the dark side of poverty and drugs. He himself came close to a similar fate on more than one occasion.
But Jesus came into his life and did not let him go until he was redeemed for God's Kingdom. Touched by the witness of pastor and his family, this man came to believe in Jesus and to be freed from his oppression.
An 18 year-old girl from El Salvador came to live with me some years ago. She had a year and a half old baby daughter. With her babe in arms, this young woman had swum the Rio Grande River and entered the United States illegally. She was a Christian living in a time when her country was consumed by civil war and governed by the cruel hand of death squads. Her response to the evil around her was to work in a refugee camp that ministered to families whose homes had been destroyed in the warfare. Her work was an expression of her faith which led her to feel love and compassion for others. She knew that Jesus called her to such work. For this she was forced to leave her country or face death. Through the help of other Christians she fled leaving behind a legacy of courage and hope.
These three persons experienced the healing touch of Jesus like the mute man who was healed by Jesus. In all of their lives, what was, was transformed to what could be through Jesus' power. Incurable arthritis, a lost soul, bloody war. Who would believe that a healing could come, that the path could become clear, that peace could be lived, under these circumstances? These persons believe that Jesus made it possible, that what could be, became reality in their lives.
Some of those who observed the incredible happenings in the lives of the three persons whose stories I share responded like those who witnessed the healing of the mute man. "Never has anything like this been seen before." But then there were others. Some of the arthritic woman's friends doubted her healing and even her previous illness. The colleague redeemed from the darkness of the streets was rejected by his former cohorts. The refugee woman was considered an enemy, of the state. They had not stayed within the confines of what was physically, socially or politically possible. Something was wrong with them, and with their source of healing and redemption.
It was what the scribes thought of the man freed of the demon that made him mute and even more so, what they thought of Jesus who healed him. What Jesus had done was not logically possible. Jesus must be somehow deceiving them and therefore must be a cruel and evil man. They ignored another possibility. The possibility that what they had seen occur before them was nothing less than divine intervention. In their efforts to be responsible spiritual leaders the scribes had forgotten their faith which claimed that for God, all things are possible.
The theologian Reinhold Neibuhr talks about this dilemma when he states that responsible Christianity involves reflection and understanding of the social, political and economic reality in which faith is lived. But, he goes on to say that in all of our informed understanding of human reality we must never close the door to the possibility of God's intervention that can make things different. It is the possibility. It is the possibility of God's intervention that keeps Christian hope alive.
Unfortunately, the scribes were without hope. They were without hope not because they lacked knowledge or understanding, nor because they were bad men. They were without hope because when God intervened in their lives through Jesus Christ, they turned and rejected him doing the most illogical thing by calling him evil rather than seeing the divine good in him and his actions. They refused to acknowledge that the one before them held the very Spirit of God. They condemned themselves because their hearts and minds were closed to Jesus, the only source of eternal salvation.
We do not know the final outcome of those scribe's faith journeys. We do catch glimpses of Jesus' mother, Mary, at the foot of the cross. Perhaps in time they all came to believe in Jesus as Savior of their lives, joining him in doing the will of God and thus becoming part of Jesus' true family. But I ask again, "What of us?" May our merciful Lord intervene in our lives, may we recognize him and welcome his goodness, having faith in that what can be has become reality in him.
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