In today’s short Gospel from St. Mark, we are told that when the crowd gathered around Jesus – so dense that it was impossible for him and his disciples to even eat – his relatives “set out to seize him,” having determined that “He is out of his mind.”
From our vantage point, it is easy to be critical of the reaction of Jesus’ family. But we don’t konw what they were expecting from Jesus. Was this behavior inconsistent with the Jesus they had come to know as a youth and young adult? And certainly they had expectations that religious teachers would look like the priests and rabbis they were accustomed to; Jesus doubtless looked and acted very different from what they thought a religious teacher would look like. So they dismissed him, thinking he was crazy.
Instead of shaking our heads at their behavior, we would do better to ask ourselves: How do we respond to the presence of Jesus in our midst? And, more particularly in this context, are we open when Jesus appears in a guise that is different from the one in which we expect him to appear. How do we react when Jesus appears to us, not in someone with the trappings of a Dalai Lama, or a great Imam, or in the robes of a Christian cleric, but in someone who we have taken to be a quite ordinary person? Even harder, how do we react when the person calls us to something radically different than what we have expected?
The question we need to ask ourselves is how can we stay open to the manifold ways in which Jesus may appear to us in the world? And how do we recognize Jesus when he doesn’t appear in obvious ways? (It can’t be just that someone is followed by a large crowd – David Koresh had a lot of followers at Waco and I’m pretty comfortable saying that he was not the presence of Jesus.)
It is an important question to reflect on because, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we put God in a box. We expect God to appear and manifest presence in ways that we expect. They may be easy to poke fun at, but I suspect there are times when we react to the presence of Jesus much in the same way his relatives did.