Scripture Readings for January 23, 2016
Today’s gospel passage captures one third of something called Lewis’ Trilemma. Here is how Lewis describes it:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. … Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. (Mere Christianity 56)
This is commonly represented as “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.” The goal today is not to discuss all of the flaws or merits of his argument, but to draw from it the startling connection in Mark today.
Mark wrote, “When [Jesus’] relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’.” Actually if you go one verse further than the lectionary’s passage you find these words, “The scribes who had come from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘By the prince of demons he drives out demons’.” These verses are Lewis’ Trilemma in action. But more than that, they stand out because for much of my life I silenced anything that sounded like them. Why? Because the response of the people in them says something about how radical Christ is.
I preferred a complacent, non-confrontational, ‘Leave It to Beaver’ Jesus, over the one presented in the Gospels. The Child of God should be neither seen nor heard by my estimation. I only wanted the Jesus that I could quote back at Christians when I suspected hypocrisy. If He wasn’t good for poking fun at mega-churches or describing with words like ‘swell’ I didn’t want anything to do with Him. There was no room in my life for a dangerous or radical Jesus.
Now, I’d always accepted that He was a real historical person and that He had truly been killed, but I never asked the logical follow-up question, “If Jesus was as safe as I wanted Him to be, why did people want to kill Him?” See, passages like today remind us that Jesus was not an easy pill to swallow. He, His teaching, and His ministry demanded a response. Does that response fit neatly into Lewis’ Trilemma? I don’t know, but I agree with Lewis that you can’t accurately represent Jesus and sit on the fence about Him. To render Him innocuous you have to sugarcoat Him, ignore Him, or belittle Him. But to represent Him accurately is to find a complex, strong, resolute, man.
He may have been non-violent, but He wasn’t non-confrontational. He may have been meek, but He was not complacent. He may have been kind and gentle, but He was not soft. Some accused Him of lunacy, some suspected Him of being possessed, and others followed Him with a dedication and loyalty that led to their death. All of this begs us to look at Jesus as we see Him. Spend some time with those words from Mark today, “He is out of his mind.” Can you relate? Have you met the Christ that makes you say, “Without faith, I’d think this guys is crazy”? Do you know the Jesus that gives our lives a new horizon or does he seem more like the host of a toddler’s TV show?