I suppose that I’m stating the obvious here, but I think Jesus taught in two important ways.
One is that he preached. And by that, I mean that he proclaimed a message of love, grace and care for others which he backed up with action. It’s easy to say that preaching is just talk, but the real thing is what Jesus did: he lived what he proclaimed. We don’t just learn from his words, but his living.
The other is that he told stories. Mostly parables, but I’m sure he just told some good old stories. Nothing makes a point like a story. After all, we live in story, right? When we describe what happened to someone else or even recall it for ourselves, it’s a story we’re telling, our version of things. It’s no wonder Jesus liked to use stories, so that people could relate to his point. That, unfortunately, is also where it gets tricky because stories tend to become our version of things and we can easily interpret what we see and hear differently.
By the way, if someone is teaching you a story of Jesus that leaves you feeling judged, found wanting and fearful, then I think you need another teacher. The stories told by Jesus, like the story of Jesus, were meant to help us live better lives, not make us feel like we failed.
Of course, though I feel pretty confident in saying that, it’s my interpretation, isn’t it? We all hear the message our own way. So you can understand why people in positions of authority might find Jesus to be a problem and why they, and others, might think Jesus is out of his mind.
I use that expression deliberately because that’s the scene early on in the gospel of Mark. Jesus has been busy, so busy that he decides he needs help and appoints the twelve apostles. He’s been performing miracles, healing people and casting out demons, and preaching his message of love. And he’s been attracting a lot of attention. The crowds are overwhelming, some think he’s gone “out of his mind,” (Mark 3:21), his family shows up to get him out of there, the authorities show up and Jesus just keeps on going – it’s just a really busy, if not chaotic, scene.
In the midst of it, Jesus makes some pretty startling pronouncements. The authorities accuse him of acting for the devil, so he debunks that and, in doing so, uses a short, simple parable for what he’s all about. He says “no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” A somewhat obtuse metaphor to us, I guess, but essentially he means that he is the one who comes to the world (the house) to “tie up” evil (the strong man) and change the world. In a recent Working Preacher blog post, theologian Matt Skinner describes the whole of the gospel of Mark as “a story about the reign of God coming to displace another reign, and that other one will not relinquish its power without a fight.” That sounds pretty subversive and alarming.
Jesus goes on to say that there is a sin that cannot be forgiven, a sin against the Holy Spirit. But I wonder if the sin here, the “blasphemy” (Mark 3:29), isn’t simply the rejection of what the Spirit offers. There’s no possibility of knowing forgiveness if you don’t accept that it’s been given. The language is harsh, but realistic: how will you ever know forgiveness if you don’t accept the grace that gives it? Again, pretty subversive and alarming talk. But it gets worse.
Jesus dismisses his blood relations and claims his family to be something different, something bigger, something not defined by the rigid structures of a hierarchical Hebrew society. It’s those who “do the will of God” (Mark 3:35). You can imagine how outrageous that would have sounded in that day. It still does today, even with a more global worldview, even with a better understanding of different societal structures, even with a better appreciation of how dysfunctional families can be, even then, it sounds, well, crazy. He must be out of his mind.
But look, right from the beginning, Jesus was clear that things were going to change, needed to change and wanted to change. Nowhere did Jesus say it would be easy and comfortable. If our relationships are built on structures that perpetuate brokenness, exert power over others, exclude and subjugate them, then those relationships need to change. That’s not crazy talk. That’s love in action. That’s empowering and life giving.