In the May 1997 issue of St. Anthony Messenger magazine, Father Raymond Brown comments on the misunderstandings which invade Jesus' life in chapter 3 of Mark's Gospel. Father Brown mentions that the evangelist sandwiches the scribes' misconception about Jesus' powers of exorcism -- "He expels demons with the help of the prince of demons!" -- between two references to His family's misunderstanding of His entire ministry.
In verse 21, His relatives "set out to seize Him, for they said, `He is out of His mind.'" Then in verse 31, after the Beelzebul passage, "His mother and His brothers arrive" and attempt to call Jesus out from the middle of the crowd (Mk 3:20-35).
"This scene," Father Brown writes, "in which Jesus praises a family of disciples that is obedient to God at the expense of a natural family that does not understand Him, would not incline readers to develop devotion to Mary." Such devotion, according to the article, will come only in Luke and John's Gospels. Yet, Sunday's Gospel isn't from Luke or John. It's from Mark. And Mark clearly says the people closest to Jesus " His immediate family " don't understand what He's about.
The authors of the Christian Scriptures frequently speak about Jesus being misunderstood. His divinity never seems powerful enough to cause people to see and understand Him as He really is. No matter what He says or does, there's always room for misinterpretation.
Paul, believing all who follow Jesus become "other Christs," expects that Christians will also be misunderstood. In Sunday's second reading (2 Cor 4:13-5:1), he gives the reason this misunderstanding is so automatic. "We do not fix our gaze on what is seen," the Apostle writes, "but on what is unseen."
Those who follow Jesus focus on things which others never seem to notice. As Paul reminds us in another place, "We walk by faith and not by sight." No wonder so many misinterpret our actions and motives.
Yet, there's something about faith misunderstandings which is even deeper than our following of Jesus. The Yahwistic author of Genesis, writing more that 900 years before Jesus, deals with the fundamental problem of evil in our lives (Gen 3:9-15). Ever since our first ancestors ate the forbidden fruit, "things" aren't quite right. This basic disorder shows up immediately after the fall when Adam defends his hiding from Yahweh on the grounds that "I was afraid, because I was naked." God not only demands to know, "Who told you that you were naked?" but also informs both the serpent and our first parents of the further implications of their transgression. "I will put enmity," Yahweh tells the serpent, "between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel."
Anyone who has ever tried to stomp on a snake understands the Yahwistic author's image. No matter how fast our foot, it's never faster than the snake. In the instant we kill the snake, the snake will bite our heel. Those who stomp on snakes had better get used to sore heels.
Price to pay
Since the Genesis serpent symbolizes evil, the author's telling us there's a price to pay if we want to eradicate evil in our lives. The very action which wipes out evil wounds us in the process. The only way we can rid the world of the effects of sin is to be willing to suffer through the pain which sin has brought into the world.
Eve will be pained in her relationship with her husband and in bearing children. Adam will experience pain every day he attempts to do an honest day's work. Marriage, childbearing and work are all ways of stomping on the serpent, but each comes packaged in pain and frustration.
Remember Jesus' first miracle in Mark? He casts out a demon - the evil force in our lives. It's Mark's way of saying that Jesus and those who follow Him are focused on crushing the serpent. But those so dedicated to eradicating evil must also have a high pain threshold. They must not only endure misunderstandings, but also anticipate them, even from those closest to them.
There's no other way to get rid of evil. It's as clear as the clothes on our bodies.