By Father Casey
For most of the last 1,000 years or so, at least in the western world, the Christian Church has represented established society. It has been associated with good, respectable people. Even now, Christianity is a majority religion in most parts of the world, and to be Christian is to be “normal.”
But that’s not how it began. When Jesus first showed up, he was not seen as good and respectable. His teaching was scandalous, even dangerous. He was a threat to the very idea of decency, because right from the start, Jesus proclaimed a radically expansive vision of God’s reign. From the moment he began preaching, teaching, and healing, Jesus was focused on transforming the commonly held assumptions of the day by showing that God was in love with the whole world and everyone in it, and not just a single ethnic or religious group in one particular region. God’s mercy, compassion, and blessing stretched far beyond the old tribal lines.
Again, given how respectable and decent Christianity seems to most of us today, it is hard to imagine how scandalous Jesus first seemed to many, and apparently not only to the religious and political elites, but even his own family! In Mark 3, which we’ll hear this weekend, Jesus’ family showed up early in his ministry to silence him. They were embarrassed by his so-called “good news,” and ashamed that their son or brother might be wandering around teaching such nonsense.
This is such an important story, because it reminds us that there has been resistance to the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the very beginning, and not just by outside forces of evil, but also by people who may be close to us. The world simply does not trust a message of radical inclusivity, and even today in a so-called “modern age,” many cannot accept that God loves all equally, and all deserve equal dignity and respect.
Every time the reign of God moves outward, there is always a reaction. Within weeks of Jesus starting his ministry, they were already labeling him as deranged and demon-possessed, and the same pattern has continued to unfold ever since. Whenever it becomes a little more on earth as it is in heaven, there is always resistance, name-calling, and violence. We see it in the life of Jesus, when he was resisted at every turn, right up to his final week of mortal life. We see in our own day in the movement for racial justice, as every advance toward “liberty and justice for all” is met with a vociferous negative response, from riots in the Capitol to restrictions on voting.
But we must not lose heart. There may be resistance to the reign of God, and these forces may win the day with their name-calling, political maneuvering, and violence, but we know that opposition to the will of God is temporary at best. Jesus’ life and teaching was the perfect expression of what God desires for all, and his inclusive, embracing, compassionate way will keep moving and growing until every life and every place is experiencing its heavenly goodness.
Jesus didn’t stop that day when his family came to hush him and carry him home. He didn’t stop when they labeled him crazy and satanic. He didn’t even stop when they converted their words to weapons and had him killed. He didn’t stop, because God’s love does not stop, and that means we must not stop, either. There is much more heaven to make known on earth, many more lives that need the healing of God’s love, many more places that need the transformation of God’s justice.