Mark 3 – Much Madness Is Divinest Sense

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Today’s PassageMark 3

In 2001, I took a year off to work between high school and college. During that time, my mom introduced me to Michael Card via his “best of” album Joy in the Journey. One track, “God’s Own Fool,” begins with Card singing in an impossibly high register about Jesus’ contemporary reputation as a wise teacher, despite the fact that many who actually witnessed his ministry firsthand regarded him as certified looney tunes:

For even his family said he was mad,
And the priests said a demon’s to blame,
But God in the form of this angry young man
Could not have seemed perfectly sane.

And this is precisely what we see happen smack in the middle of today’s chapter of Mark.

I’m pretty sure that Card penned those lines directly from Mark 3:21-22. In these two verses, Mark reports, “When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’ The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.’” Jesus’ family and religious opponents may consider him crazy, but on the other hand, the crowds have gone crazy for Jesus. Wherever he goes to eat, the masses pack the house from wall to wall, and people from all over come to see what the deal is with the miracle-working rabbi (3:7-8).

As we already know, part of the reason Jesus has drawn such attention is because of his approach to Sabbath-keeping: an approach which the Pharisees would characterize as “not keeping the Sabbath.” The Sabbath trouble actually started at the end of the last chapter, but I was busy talking about how weird various aspects of the paralytic incident were. The Pharisees fussed about the disciples picking grain on the Sabbath, and Jesus countered with “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (2:27), a Mark-exclusive maxim. But today, he compounds the Pharisees’ ire by healing on the Sabbath.

As Jesus enters the synagogue and sees a man with a crippled hand, the Pharisees are watching to see what he’ll do. Imagine them poised like hyenas, waiting for a chance to nail Jesus to the wall for doing a good deed. Jesus asks, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath?” (3:4). He looks over the opportunistic cadre with disgust and sadness. They’re so focused on one-upping their latest opponent that they’re completely neglecting the suffering human being before them. Then, with all the defiance of a child eating the last cookie, Jesus heals the man’s hand.

And both the Pharisees and Jesus are exhibiting their own kind of madness here. The Pharisees are losing touch with the suffering human beings around them and with their own humanity. They’re treating a man’s crippled hand as a vehicle by which to score points against an itinerant miracle-working rabbi. And Jesus knows full well that performing the healing will get him on the bad side of one of the most powerful groups in first-century Judaism, but he does it anyway. After this event, the Pharisees start conspiring with the Herodians–those Jews who support the dynasty of the Herods–to bring Jesus down.

I dunno, fam. Maybe I’m just looking at it through the crazy lens, but I’m starting to think maybe Mark is the gospel where everyone’s a little bit crazy.

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