Year B Proper 5: bike racks and blasphemy

I have a bit of an independent streak, so the other day when the car dealership called to say that the car was fixed, I didn’t want to have to wait for someone else to take me over there to pick it up. It was easily within biking range. The one dilemma was how to transport my bike home once I had the car. Solution: wear the bike rack like an external skeleton and get on over there. I like to think I looked cool, like a Transformer. Of course, my family thought I was crazy, but they’re used to that.

That is almost exactly not what this passage about Jesus and his family is all about.

They thought that he had gone out of his mind. This wasn’t an idle concern. The scribes were considering him possessed, they thought that he was in league with the demons; but Jesus insisted that the spirit that galvanized him and inspired his preaching and empowered his healing work and burned with prophetic zeal – this was the Spirit of God.

And that, friends, is blasphemy, which was then and is now in some places punishable by death. So Jesus family, when they come to take him away, do so not out of embarrassment or fear of what the neighbours might say, but what the neighbours might do: they might kill him. They might put Jesus to death for the sin, the crime of blasphemy, if he goes on like he does, insisting on speaking for God. Turns out, they might have been right.

Where they were wrong, of course, was in the initial diagnosis of demon-possession and mental disease: Jesus was stone cold sane when he claimed to be one with God; the only man who ever has been.

The real blasphemy is in the scribes who claim to know the mind of God better than God, better than Jesus himself. The real blasphemy is in hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and claiming to know better, to know God’s mind better, and to know that it is not what Jesus says it is, quite the opposite, in fact.

The real blasphemy is in saying that we know God better than God does; that we are independently equal to God and up with God, rather than accepting our dependence upon a God who loves us, who cares for us, whom we can trust; who is, after all, dependable.

We see it back in Genesis. Adam, when God asks him why he is hiding, gets himself in a real tangle. First, he claims to hide because he is naked and afraid [not the reality tv show]; but already at the end of Genesis 2, we have told that the man and the woman were both naked and unashamed. Then, too, Adam is lying anyway: by the time God comes looking the garden, he and the woman have already made themselves clothing of fig leaves sewn together: they are no longer naked. They are afraid, and ashamed.

They are afraid and ashamed because they know that the temptation to which they succumbed was the one that put them in the place of God. The line the serpent used on the woman to get her to eat from the forbidden tree was this:

“God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil,” which honestly doesn’t sound like such a bad idea; except that we have been proving ever since that we do not possess divine sight, and that we cannot be trusted to be good with the knowledge of evil.

“What have you done?” asks God, inviting confession, and instead Adam lies. Almost the whole rest of the Bible is about the attempts that follow to restore the relationship which has been injured by the blasphemy of a woman and a man who believe that it is their place to be God, and the lies that it spawns; the lies we tell ourselves, to justify ourselves, and the lies that we tell God.

There are many ways that we set ourselves up to be God for ourselves and one another. We claim, regularly, to know the mind of God better than God knows it, and not only in the obvious, overtly judgmental ways.

We tell one another, “Everything happens for a reason,” assuming that we know how the mind of God conceives of cancer, car accidents, and child abuse, friends of Job telling the suffering to search their pain for the message that God is sending, when the Gospel tells us that all that God wills for us is healing, and comfort, and peace.

We tell one another, “God doesn’t make mistakes,” which follows on from “Everything happens for a reason,” meaning: I believe that this happened to you for this reason, and I am not mistaken, putting ourselves in the place of God, pretending to the mind of God, instead of dwelling in the heart of God, which is much kinder than our own.

A friend was a chaplain in a children’s hospital, where a child’s life was threatened by the need for an amputation – I am changing the details in order to preserve anonymity; but let’s say that the child needed to have his hand amputated, but an older, wiser relative was holding up the surgery insisting that God has a plan for this child, and God’s plan was that the child should be a pianist. How could the doctors’ diagnosis be correct, then, if it flew in the face of God’s plan?

I am not suggesting that doctors are never wrong nor exempt from their own God-complexes, but do you hear how the common phrase, “God has a plan for your life,” gets twisted into, “And I know exactly what it is, because I have the mind of God”? Even among those who believe that they are acting out of love, rather than out of shame, and fear, and denial, which must have been powerful influences in this case.

We do not possess divine sight, and we do not do so well at being good with the knowledge of evil.

The problem with claiming the mind of God, offers Jesus, is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to receive God’s grace, to apprehend and embody God’s mercy, when we are acting like God ourselves. If we hold ourselves to be God, then we have no need of God’s comfort, and so we will fail to find it. We will fail to meet God walking in the garden if we are too busy hiding our faces because we know that they glow like God’s. From my reading of the Gospel, I do not believe that there is any such thing as an unforgiveable person or an unforgiveable sin; but we will fail to find ourselves forgiven if we lose ourselves to the fantasy that we are God, and thus have no need of this other God’s grace.

There is a solution, says Jesus. “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Follow me, says Jesus. Find the will of God in my will. Project onto me all of your God-complexes; I will not let you down. I will embrace you like family. Trust me. Depend upon me.

Our modern, western society puts a lot of value on independence, but that doesn’t make it good theology. We are made in the image of God; we are children of God; we are not God.

You would have to be a little crazy to think you could cycle to the car dealership with the bike rack on your back. You would have to be more than a little crazy to think that you possess the mind of God, the reason for everything that happens, the trusted ability to wield the knowledge of good and evil.

It might, in the end, be safer to accept the help of Jesus, and lean on him, our brother, sister, mother, child, friend. One might say, you’d be mad not to.


About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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2 Responses to Year B Proper 5: bike racks and blasphemy

  1. Pastor Ken says:

    “God has a plan for your life,” gets twisted into, “And I know exactly what it is, because I have the mind of God”.

    I was having this discussion just this past Thursday, specifically as it related to things people say when friends and family die. “Oh, God has a plan.” And how do you know that? We mean well, but in our attempt to maintain control of an impossible situation, we attempt to extend that control over God.

    Also, the image of you riding your back with the bike rack strapped over you makes me laugh. I may or may not have considered doing that, too…

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