PROPER 5, B
As you may remember this is the year we are reading the Gospel of Mark, except that Lent and the Easter season used John instead. Today we begin the post Pentecost season and we will be reading through Mark for some time.
Let me just remind you what has happened in Mark’s Gospel prior to this morning’s reading. It began with John the Baptist in the wilderness and with the baptism of Jesus. Then Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee after John is imprisoned by calling the disciples. He goes about preaching in the synagogues and eventually out in the countryside because the crowds who come to hear him have gotten so large. He returns on several occasions to Capernaum, probably to the home of Simon Peter.
Besides preaching he has been casting out demons and healing the sick. The scribes and Pharisees are already around to question him. Why do Jesus and his disciples gather grain on the Sabbath? Why does Jesus heal on the Sabbath? Why is he eating with tax collectors and sinners? The last time he stayed in Capernaum the crowd was so large that four men had to lower a paralytic through a hole in the roof to gain access to Jesus.
This morning we find Jesus and the disciples in Capernaum, where it is so crowded in the house that they cannot even eat. This lesson is really two stories, with one wrapped around the other. One has to do with Jesus’s family and the other has to do with the scribes from Jerusalem who accuse him of using Satan’s power to cast out demons. This helps to create the sense of inside vs. outside. The outside story is family, who hear that Jesus has gone out of his mind and hope to restrain him. And physically they are in the crowd outside the house, whereas the scribes are inside baiting him.
Not until he has answered the scribes does he return to deal with his family. And this is what we’ll consider today, because it’s rather a strange little story. Why does his family think Jesus has lost his mind?
Think first about the sort of society they lived in. Yes, it was settled in farms and villages, but it wasn’t far from the tribal times, and the importance of family and tribe is hard for us to grasp. In that society, individuals did not have the choices we’re used to: to marry whom we want; to remain single; to prefer someone of our own gender; to have or not have children. The future of the community was of greater importance than any individual desires or concerns. Women and men both had the obligation to marry and to have children.
Honor had almost as much to do with your position as did your occupation or your wealth. It mattered what the neighbor said or thought about you and everything you did reflected on the family/tribe.
Where does this leave Jesus? We assume that all his life he’s been a good Jewish son. Then he leaves home, leaves his work, which helps to support his family, and goes off with a ragtag bunch of friends stirring up trouble. Jesus has
- Thrown away the security of job and family
- Thrown away his safety (and maybe theirs) by defying the powers that be.
- Defied the norms of his society by not caring what anyone says about him.
So, after dealing with the scribes, the crowd reminds him that his Mother, brothers, and sisters are outside the house asking for him. And Jesus denies them. Looking at the people around him he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Whether Jesus knew why they had come or not, he cuts them off with two sentences! What about “Honor thy father and mother?” What Jesus models here is exactly what it may mean to put God first. Nation, society, and family come after that. When the goals, wishes, or desires of any of these are in conflict, God’s will comes first.
Do you think it didn’t hurt Jesus to do this? Well, we don’t hear about it, but I have no doubt that it pained him, just as it would have pained him to know they thought he was crazy, just as it must have pained him when they found him in the Temple and were upset with him.
I know you remember the story of his calling the disciples – they dropped what they were doing and followed, leaving their family, their business, wives and children behind. We don’t ever hear how the ones left felt about it, but it’s not hard to imagine. Yet they honored the call of God above all else.
Sadly, this is often the cost of discipleship. If we chose to follow Jesus, to study his life and try to follow in his Way, the costs can be high. When I started the Deacon’s training while I was living in Minneapolis, my best friend started making funny comments. She acted like I’d joined some weird cult. It didn’t end our friendship, but it was never the same after that either. And she never acknowledged in any way my ordination as a priest.
I suspect for many of us, our families and even friends are more important than anything else. And normally this is a good thing. It’s when the pressures of such relationships keep us from putting God first that there’s conflict.
In a community like this one, it’s easy to find families that have been close and comfortable for generations. But in this day and age, I suspect that we all know young people who have had to cut the ties to their families in order to survive or in order to stay healthy. They often find “family” somewhere else or form new families with their friends.
One of the commentators on today’s lesson talked about “true kinship.” Such kinship is based on common experience, common interest, common obedience, and common goals. Many families have this, but some don’t.
It would appear that the family of Jesus had all this, but they did not, indeed could not, understand what he was about when he stepped outside their norms. The crucifixion stories make it clear that Jesus was reconciled with his Mother and at least some of his brothers later. It appears that they came to understand his work later on and became followers as well.
But if you choose to follow, there are no guarantees that the breaches it causes will be healed, at least in this lifetime. And it takes courage and strength to do the right thing when others don’t see it that way. Jesus never said the Way would be easy, but he promised that we would not be alone. The Holy Spirit goes with us and so do all the other disciples. The Family of God is very good company along the Way.
“We are the family of God.
Yes, we are the family of God,
And He’s brought us together to be one in him
That we might bring light to the world.”