Wherever you're with me

This scene in Mark opens with beautiful simplicity. Then he went home. If somebody collected the life stories of any woman, man, or child who ever lived, some version of that line would be part of each: Then she went home. Then they went home. Then he went home. Whatever it was that came before – a long day of work or a lifetime of wandering, a short stay at the hospital or three generations of exile – whatever it was that came before, then they went home. These words are heavy with peace. We think about familiar faces, a table and a bed, the sound of the rain on the roof, a window, and the way the view changes from season to season, and from year to year. Home.

It’s easy to imagine Jesus at the end of a long day that took him to the synagogue, to the beach, and up the mountain – and that’s just where he’s been in 19 quick verses in chapter 3 – it’s easy to imagine him coming home to his favorite chair where he loves to sit and watch the sun go down behind the hills. Home is always a good place to go, or it’s not home.

Now the passage in Mark could also open with slightly different wording, and, with everything that follows, I believe it should be translated to say,

Then he went into a house and again a crowd gathered so they could not even eat.

People had heard all that he was doing and they came. He had healed so many that everyone who was sick came and pushed forward in order to touch him. The same scene had happened earlier on the beach, when Jesus told his disciples to get a small boat ready for him so the crowd wouldn’t crush him. They kept coming, they kept pushing.

Now he’s in a house that sits like an island in a sea of people who want to touch him. They are drawn to him because of his power to heal and forgive. And then his family shows up. These are the people closest to him, men and women who have known him for years – and they’ve come to restrain him. They are convinced he has gone out of his mind. Perhaps you want to think that they are concerned about his well-being, that they are afraid that he might get hurt, that his mom is here to say, “Are you out of your mind, son? Come on home now, eat a decent meal, and get some sleep.”

But that’s not what’s going on here. They have come to tie him up. The verb translated restrain here is also used later when Jesus is arrested.[1] His family are here to pick him up and take him home, in chains if necessary.

It’s not just people who are saying, “He’s out of his mind;” it’s his own family. The people closest to him do not recognize the power at work in him. They think it’s madness, and they’ve come for an intervention. But there’s another group pushing onto the scene, a delegation from Jerusalem. They are scribes, scholars, religious experts, and they demonize Jesus accusing him of being in league with Beelzebul, the master of demons. They also do not recognize the power at work in him and accuse him of sorcery and black magic.[2]

We look at this scene from the other side of the resurrection, and that makes biased readers of us. We are reading too quickly, though, I think, if we smugly dismiss Jesus’ immediate family as slow and the scholars from the city as blind. Like us, they live in difficult times, and like most of us, they want to maintain what little stability is left in their domestic and religious life. They have been watching what Jesus does, they have witnessed how he brings God’s love and grace to life, regardless of where he is or with whom or what time of day or year – there’s no proper order to it, it’s so extravagant and reckless, and it frightens them. Like us, they live in difficult times and they cling to and wish to protect what little normalcy and peace they know and have. Jesus is just so disruptive that to them his power feels like chaos.

Mark paints a scene for us suggesting that the presence and work of God in Christ is not unambiguous, and that it can indeed be quite difficult to tell the inbreaking of God’s reign from what we might consider madness or, God help us, evil. Now perhaps you think it couldn’t possibly be that difficult. But consider marriage for a moment, or more specifically, think about marriage between a woman and a woman, or a man and a man. To some of us in the churches such marriages are God’s way of ordering human relationships in holy covenants that allow us to grow in love; some of us recognize in the hopeful and painful conversations we’ve been having in this country the healing work of the Holy Spirit who frees us from the demons of homophobia and calls us to justice. To others in the churches a marriage that is not between a man and a woman is unthinkable, and where others speak of liberation, they can only see rebellion against God’s good order. Wherever you find yourself in that debate, think about just how close you might be to calling good evil and the holy demonic.

Mark paints a scene for us. It’s a little house with Jesus in it, and around it a throng of people old and young, rich and poor, men and women; people of all ethnic backgrounds and political convictions, people on crutches and on stretchers; all of humanity with our hopes and our fears, our flaws and our dreams, with our hunger and thirst for life, and we’re pressing in at the doors and windows, aching to be near Jesus and to touch his cloak. The only ones to remain on the edge of the scene are the ones who have made up their minds because they already know what’s best for the family and for religion: Jesus needs to be restrained. The presence and work of the Holy Spirit needs to be kept under control.

Jesus is at odds with his family and he is in conflict with the religious authorities, but it’s not because he’s a young man with wild ideas. When the scribes accuse him of being in league with Beelzebul, the master of demons, he points out that their charge makes no sense. Why would Satan cooperate in the eviction of Satan? If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And Satan, one must assume, would have a strong interest in keeping intact arrangements as old as human memory.

But Jesus has plans to rearrange things significantly and permanently. To illustrate the point he quotes a line from the burglary manual:

No one can enter a strong one’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong one; then indeed the house can be plundered.

Jesus sees himself as the thief who has come to rob the biggest thief of all. Human beings and all of creation belong to God the Creator, and not to the whispering lier who sows lovelessness and robs us of life’s fullness. Jesus has plans for the strong one’s house. He ties him up, demon by demon, fear by fear, and plunders his property, leading the captives home.

Mark paints a scene for us; it’s a little house with Jesus in it. And that little house is the new home for all of us. Jesus’ mother and his brothers are standing outside and they call him. He is out of his mind, they say. He is beside himself. He’s completely out of it, they say, and there’s truth in their confusion. Jesus’ life, in contrast to ours, revolves entirely around the will of God. The whisperer of loveless lies simply can’t get a handle on him. They say, “He is out of his mind,” and the truth is, Jesus is completely in sync with God’s mind. They say, “He is beside himself,” and the truth is, Jesus doesn’t follow the path of the self-absorbed, but entrusts himself completely to the flow of love and grace he offers with such reckless extravagance.

A crowd is sitting around him and they say, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” And he looks at all the humanity sitting around him, all of us with our hunger and thirst for life, and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus sits in the midst of those who long for healing and freedom. The beauty of his mission is that the closer we draw to him because of our own desire to touch and be healed by wholeness, the closer we draw to each other. And the closer we draw to the reality of suffering, longing, and joy in each other, the closer we draw to him and the wholeness he brings to creation.

There’s a little house with Jesus in it. And that little house is big enough for all of us. Jesus’ mother and his brothers are standing outside and they call him. They’ve come to take him home like we all come wishing to take him home with us and show him his room.

But he knows better and he sings,[3]

Ahh home
Come on home
Home is wherever you’re with me
Ahh home
Come on home, home, home
Home is wherever you’re with me


[1] Mark 14:1, 44, 46, 49

[2] Beelzebul is a Philistine deity, ridiculed in Hebrew tradition as Baal Zebub, Lord of the Flies cf. 2 Kings 1:2; in the first century, the name apparently had become one of the names of the Tempter

[3] With thanks to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros for a lovely song; the wording was changed only minimally