SCRIPTURE – Mark 23:20-21, 31-35
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family[b] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus Was NOT A Nice Guy sermon series
#5 – Jesus Was Not A Family Man
Mark 3:20-21, 31-35
March 25, 2012
During this sermon series called “Jesus Is NOT A Nice Guy,” we’ve looked at some pretty difficult passages, none of which paint Jesus in a positive light. We’ve heard him chastise his disciples and talk about dividing families. We’ve seen him throw his weight around in the temple and calm a raging storm with just a few words. Over and over we’ve asked ourselves, “Who IS this Jesus?”
But I think I have today’s passage figured out. There’s a logical explanation for what’s going on here. Mark tells us that Jesus went home, and when he got there a crowd had already gathered. Whenever a crowd gathers for religious purposes, there’s usually a meal involved, and nine times of out ten it’s a potluck. So everyone brought their covered dish and serving spoon and waited, and when Jesus and his disciples arrived, they surrounded him, clamping down upon him so much that he couldn’t get to the food. He sees the roasted new potatoes, he smells the corn pudding, he’s already picked out the piece of pecan pie he wants, but the people are in his way, so much so Mark says Jesus “could not even eat.” No wonder Jesus’ family thinks he’s out of his mind – the man is hungry! They should know better than to stand between a religious leader and a church potluck table.
OK, so maybe that’s not what is really going on here. Then what is? What is happening in this story that would lead Jesus’ family to have him committed, and then would drive Jesus to forsake his own flesh and blood? There’s a reason you don’t hear this story preached a lot on Mother’s Day. This is tough stuff. And it doesn’t even start with what Jesus says about his family; it starts with what his family says about him.
This is one place in the Bible where I wish I knew more of the story. We know only a little about Jesus’ mother Mary, and virtually nothing about his siblings. They show up in scripture only a few times, and no substantial information is given about them. But can you imagine growing up with the son of God as your brother? There’s a song by the Canadian comedy group Arrogant Worms called “Jesus’ Brother Bob” which addresses this situation. The song says, “I have to pay a ferry to cross the Galilee. But my brother? Oh no not him! He walks across for free. I finally get to work about a quarter after nine. Already he’s turning water into wine!”
I’m sure it wasn’t easy being Jesus’ sibling, so there may be some jealousy at work here when they and his mother come to take charge of Jesus or, as our version says, “to restrain him.” But it may have been more than jealousy. They may have been genuinely afraid for Jesus. He was saying and doing things that was getting the attention of the authorities, and not in a good way. He was putting himself in danger, and by proxy putting them in danger, as well.
Not only that, but something in Jesus had changed. They’d know the man for almost 30 years, and all of a sudden he starts healing sick people and casting out demons and preaching about God. What sane man does that? I had lunch with a minister friend of mine this past week, and he told me he knew he wanted to be a minister when he was 10 years old. And he said, “My family thought I was crazy!” Exactly! Who chooses to do this of their own free will? Our brother Jesus, the guy we shared a bunk bed with and went on vacation together, is doing what? Saying what? I think his elevator stopped going all the way to the top. We have to rescue him.
Not only was Jesus acting out of sorts personally, he was also violating some basic societal laws about familial responsibilities. You’ll notice that there’s no mention in this story of Joseph, Jesus’ father. That’s because it is believed that Joseph has already died. If that’s the case, then Jesus is now the oldest male in the household, and with that title comes certain obligations. If you were the oldest male, you were in charge of making sure the affairs were in order. You saw to it that there was money for food and clothing. You were the family representative; you made the decisions. What you DIDN’T do was round up twelve guys and go traipsing across the countryside playing faith healer.
In the ancient Jewish society, family came first. Think about how important individualism is in our world today. Such a notion was non-existent back then. Your first and foremost point of identity was your family. Your bloodline, your lineage, was part of your definition. That’s why two of our gospels provide genealogies for Jesus, tracing his roots back to Abraham and Adam and Eve. We all know that sometimes families can put the “fun” in dysfunctional, but regardless of how much they drove you crazy, family came first.
Which is why Jesus’ statement about family might sound rude to us, but would have been absolutely scandalous back then. Not only did Jesus stop being the traditional family man, he took the traditional notion of family and stood it on its head, basically redefining how we understand who our family is. No longer are we confined to DNA definitions; in the kingdom of God, family is defined by those with co-labor alongside you to do God’s will.
I’m sure these words sounded harsh some of Jesus’ listeners, even more so to his family members. It sounds as if he’s cutting all ties with them. But as I read it, this isn’t a statement of exclusion; it’s a statement of inclusion. Anyone who does God’s will is considered in kinship with us.
Interestingly, this definition doesn’t automatically exclude Jesus’ blood relations. In fact, one of his siblings, James, will go on after Jesus’ death to believe in him so much that we have a letter from James in our Bible. But in this story, Jesus’ family isn’t interested in serving alongside him. They want to shut him up, restrain him, keep him from his mission. And for Jesus, the mission of serving God takes priority over everything, even his own family.
Jesus is not trying to distinguish himself from his family; he is instead identifying with his followers. Remember, his disciples were asking to leave their nets, their families, their jobs, their homes, and follow him. They had already given up their family for this cause. So Jesus stands with them in solidarity, affirming that they were doing what God had called them to do, even if their families thought they were crazy.
And that couldn’t have been easy, because the fact that these 12 are following Jesus doesn’t mean they got along any better than any other family. Jon Dominic Crossan says, “The family is society in miniature, the place where we first learn to love and be loved, hate and be hated, help and be helped, abuse and be abused.” In other words, any family, whether connected through blood or spirit, carries within its framework the potential for strife and conflict. Can you imagine a tax collector like Matthew and a religious zealot like Simon trying to get along?
Well, it couldn’t have been any more difficult than the folks in our churches trying to get along. Our congregations, including this one, are made up of people from all walks of life, people who bleed red and who bleed blue (politically and athletically), people who like chocolate and people who like vanilla; people who are pro-something and people who are anti-that-same-thing. We’re still human, so just because we meet for Godly reasons doesn’t mean we’ll always act Godly. We still disagree. We say mean things. We don’t always get along. We won’t always act like a normal family acts, whatever that is.
And yet, Jesus says if you do the will of God, you ARE family. Paul uses a great analogy to say that all of us, this collection of eyes and ears and spleens and toenails, are woven together into one body, connected by sinew and ligament to one other, forming the family of believers. It doesn’t matter what your biological family is like. It doesn’t matter if you are all alone or have to go to four different dinners for Thanksgiving. It doesn’t matter if you come from a loving home or a broken one. It doesn’t matter if your family is estranged or just strange, whether they are right here with you in this sanctuary, 1000 miles away, are no longer with you. It doesn’t matter. You are family to us.
That’s one of the reasons I love baby dedications. We’re not just celebrating the gift of life, we are making a covenant. Through that ritual, the congregation is saying to the parents, “We promise to adopt your child. We promise to take responsibility for their faith. We promise to support you and help you raise a Christian. We are this child’s family.” As this world gets bigger and scarier and more virtual than real, you need a bigger family than the one into which you were born. So we’re here.
In case you’re wondering, I’m NOT going to start singing “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, but I want to, because that’s what I believe Jesus is saying. We are family, not defined by chromosomes but by whose image we bear. Our genetic and spiritual families may overlap, and that’s a beautiful thing. Jesus is not forcing us to choose between family and faith. But sometimes that choice is thrust upon us as our families harm and splinter, leaving bruises not easily healed and chasms not quickly bridged. No matter what happens, you have a family here, brought together each week to share a Sunday dinner together at a table that’s been spread with a feast prepared just for you, where Jesus says to all of us, “Come and eat.” We give thanks to God for our biological families, no matter how imperfect. Be sure to tell them how much you love them. And remember your spiritual genealogy. Who are my mother and father and brothers and sisters? Look around. We are family. Thanks be to God!