“You would have thought that people would be happy, that they were glad to be able to begin to get out, that there would be good will,” she said from behind the cashier’s desk at the petrol station. It was her response to someone who was clearly a Vicar innocently asking how emerging from lockdown was going for the surprisingly deserted business.
“You would have thought they’d remember clapping for carers, becoming aware of how much they depend on those who keep basic things running, but they don’t. I know what’ll happen. It will be crowded in here later and then there will be a glitch – with the till, with someone’s credit card – and the queue will get long and unpleasant. I had someone the other day push to the front, slap down some cash, shout a number and walk out.”
“Yes,” said the hotel manager I shared the story with, “they were really considerate for the first day or two, but many of them are now simply have their heads down to get what they want without much awareness of anyone else.”
So a slightly different light was shone across last Sundays’ Gospel (Mark 3.20-35) as I began to read it and prepare for the Sunday coming up. The crowd, Jesus’ family and the religious scholars all seem to be making things difficult.
Jesus’ ministry explodes into Mark’s Gospel. Thirty-five verses in, he has already taught, defeated the powers of evil, healed, and been pursued when he tried to escape somewhere quiet. Things do not let up (there is fear of being crushed at one point) and now, two chapters further in, he has just established a group of twelve co-leaders of some sort perhaps to make things more manageable.
You would have thought people would be happy. There was an opportunity to step away from everything which had restricted life. New radical ways are being explored and demonstrated. Not quite.
The crowd, it says, became so pressing that Jesus and his co-leaders were not able to eat. I think of the long shifts key workers have had to endure without even time for a meal break, one nurse emerging early on to find the supermarket stripped. Perhaps there are touches of a motivation to get the food on offer (John 6.26) or see Jesus as a performer (Luke 23.8).
Jesus’ family have been told he is not sane and have come to restrain him. I think of worried partners and children whose initial admiration and support gave way to real concern which reaches the point of saying “you need to stop doing this now for your own health”. I notice that it doesn’t say they thought he was mad or attempted to restrain him, only that they had been told so and had come to do what they might have thought was the appropriate things.
And the religious scholars roll up to say he is possessed and fundamentally mistaken. We don’t know how mainstream they were, of course, so this may be a bit like the anti-vax movement weighing in, or flunkies of Presidents in denial.
In any other year, I would have been tempted to dwell on what Jesus taught. About the scale of God’s real family. About how misattributing God’s activity being about the only thing to put us finally outside the pale.
But this year, I simply wonder whether any stunning but challenging new possibilities (from Jesus’ radical new way to emerging from lockdown) will ever plain-sail its way across human nature, so we are likely to have a bruising time if new possibilities open up around us.