If you want to know who you are, perhaps it is best to listen to what those around you think of you. Often the image that we have of ourselves does not correspond to reality. Sometimes, we live in illusions. I may think of myself as a healthy fit, young man, but in reality, I am a rotund, unfit middle aged man. We may believe whatever we want about ourselves, but nothing can erase reality. Thank God that there are others around us. Through their comments, they help us better understand who we really are. They help us get out of our bubble of illusions. The people around us help us understand who we really are.
Something similar happens in today’s gospel (Mark 3:20-21). Some family members of Jesus went looking for him because they had heard that ‘he had lost his mind’. Now, the English translation is not quite correct. If we look at the word in Greek, it does not really mean that Jesus was mad. It has many other meanings. And as it often happens, what the other people think about us, does actually reveal who we really are. When the people accuse Jesus of being ‘out of his mind’ — the word in Greek is exístēmi – they were saying a lot of things about Jesus; most of which were true.
If one breaks down the word existemi into its constitutive parts, it really means to go out of (ex) to quit, a fixed position (histemi), to displace yourself, to move out of an inert static position. I believe that there is not a better word to describe Jesus, for as we believe and know, Jesus is the son of God who ‘comes out’ of the Father and becomes man. The word existemi is, one could say, another word for the incarnation. As Saint Paul famously puts it in his letter to the Philippians, Christ, being in his very nature God… made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!’. It is therefore fair to say that the people who used word existemi for Christ were right: he came out, as God-man, to save us.
But the word existemi has another meaning. It also means to be amazed and excited. In fact, whenever that word is used in the New Testament, apart form in the case of today’s Gospel, it is always used to indicate amazement and excitement. Usually, it is used to indicate that the people were amazed when they listened to Jesus talking and teaching. Now, Jesus himself was amazed. His whole life shows a complete dedication to his Father, to his mission. ‘For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.’ Jesus was so amazed, excited, by his calling, his mission, that his life became a total dedication to this cause. This would eventually lead him to the cross, which as St Paul says, was considered as ‘foolishness’ (moria – so different word) by the gentiles. Indeed, Jesus was so dedicated to his mission, that his choice to give up everything, even to die for his mission, seemed like folly to the people around him. But he didn’t take this path because he was a fool, but because he was completely amazed by his calling and completely dedicated to his mission.
In light of what I have just said, one must conclude that what the people said about Jesus was true. The word existemi is really appropriate to describe Jesus. But I think that this Gospel tells us something more. For if we are Christians, which means disciples of Christ, or better, Christ-like, then that means that the word existemi should also describe our life and existence and Christians.
Indeed, if existemi means displacing oneself, quitting a static position and moving out, then our lives as Christians should be an existemi, and this in two ways. First, the true life of the Christian is not ego-centred, but Chirst-centred. We leave behind, or rather, put aside, our needs and desires, and put Christ at the centre. As St Paul puts it, ‘it is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me’. This is the first displacement that we as Christians undertake: we move from ego-centeredness to Christ-centeredness. But there is also a second displacement. We are called to go out, to quit our comfort zones, and go out to preach the Lord. Just as Christ left the Father and came out into the world, we too are called to go out into the world. It is no coincidence that today’s gospel, speaking about the existemi, immediately follows the episode where Jesus calls his disciples to go out. Indeed, there is no evangelization without a going-out.
But the second meaning of existemi also applies to us. If someone were to ask us: why are you Christians? Why do you follow Christ? The answer is simple and powerful: it is because we were struck by his words. It is because we are amazed by what he said and did. It is this amazement that pushed the first apostles to leave everything and follow Jesus. It is this same amazement that pushes us to follow the Lord and go out to let other people know about him. Like the disciples, we too say ‘we have found the one whom we were looking for’. If this amazement, this excitement, is taken out of the equation, Christianity becomes a dull and boring religion. But we who announce the joy of Easter can never announce a dull message.
Of course, our choices as Christians will not always be understood by the people around us. Sometimes they will think that we are fools. But just as Jesus was not afraid to live his mission up to the very end, we too should not be afraid to go against what is fashionable, what is popular, what is easy, what is materially rewarding. People will think that we are fools. In reality, we are simply living the existemi, giving up everything because we are amazed by what Jesus did for us.
For Evangelisation to succeed, only one thing is fundamental: being Christ-like, and like Christ as he appears in today’s Gospel. Just as Christ is the perfect incarnation of the existemi, so should we. We displace ourselves and put Christ at the centre, because we are amazed by the truth of his word, the power of his actions, the beauty of the future that he promises us. Indeed, the people were right when they used the word existemi to describe Jesus. My hope is that they use the same word to describe us. Otherwise, something will have gone wrong. (Photo by Maricar Santos/RCAM-AOC | Photogallery)