Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 10, 2012

2012.06.10 “Who is My Family?” Mark 3: 20 – 35

Central United Methodist Church

Who is My Family?

Pastor David L. Haley

Mark 3: 20 – 35

June 10, 2012


          “Just then his mother and brothers showed up. Standing outside, they relayed a message that they wanted a word with him. He was surrounded by the crowd when he was given the message, “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside looking for you.”

          Jesus responded, “Who do you think are my mother and brothers?” Looking around, taking in everyone seated around him, he said, “Right here, right in front of you — my mother and my brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3: 31 -35, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson


Not being a big TV family, at any given time there is maybe one show which my family enjoys.  Currently that show is the Emmy award winning ABC show, “Modern Family,” on Wednesday evenings at 8.

Modern Family is a comedy about what it is like to be a family today. It is not Father Knows Best, not The Dick Van Dyke Show, not All in the Family. It revolves around 3 families, all related, so they are really one family: Jay Pritchett, his trophy wife Gloria, and her son Manny; Jay’s daughter, Claire, her husband Phil and their 3 kids, Haley, Alex, and Luke; and Phil’s son, Mitchell, his partner Cameron, and their adopted daughter, Lily. So, not unlike modern families, the show is a mix in every way.

It’s also very well written. Both creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd are family men, and Lloyd said recently in an interview: “Probably three-quarters of the stories we tell, even if they seem outlandish, are based on something that really happened to one of us or the other writers.”

Not only do I know families like these families (except for maybe the trophy wife like Sofia Vergara), my own family is one of them. Maybe, for that reason, the character I identify with the most is the patriarch, Jay, as played by Ed O’Neil, most familiar with the old but trying to get used to the new. If your family is currently not like Modern Family in some way, all I can say is, “Just wait.”

Apart from divorce/remarriage, apart from blended families, apart from multicultural families, apart from same sex couples with adopted children, all blockbusters for those not familiar with them, consider the possibilities technology alone has brought.  I consider myself fairly smart and scientifically educated, but consider, for example, sperm and egg donation. It is possible to have more genetically related “brothers and sisters” than I can conceive, which seems like the right word to use.  In other words, I can barely understand, barely keep up not only with what’s possible, but what’s reality these days.

Of course if you only listen to the Christian right, you might think the only divinely ordained family is a father (who is a man) and a mother (who is a woman) and 1.6 children (and more if you’re Catholic). In fact, that particular family arrangement is less than 25% of the population. What many of us grew up thinking of as “family,” is now no longer the norm, if it ever was.  Some of us were just fortunate.

In spite of our disagreements, Christians (and most religions) agree on most underlying values, whatever the particular family arrangement might be: love, respect, fidelity, and the nurture and care of children. What often gets overlooked in the contentious debate over same-sex marriage, for example, is that in terms of values, the same values of love and covenant fidelity apply to same-sex couples as apply to heterosexual couples.

Even when we turn to the Scriptures, it’s not as clear as we might think. Consider our Gospel today, and the radical statement Jesus makes regarding family, to the members of his own family, no less.  What are we supposed to make of this? And what does it say to us as we rethink our idea of family?  Let’s take a look.

At this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been on a successful preaching tour.  He’s not only proclaimed the Kingdom of God is coming, he’s enacted what that kingdom will look like, by driving out demons and healing all kinds of people who have come to him seeking help. Because of this, he has become so popular he can barely enter the towns, or even grab a bite to eat.  By this time, Jesus has become a rock star.

But, at the same time, has he also become a little crazy?  Has all this success gone to his head? Is he out of his mind?  Those are some of the questions people were asking.

For example, the religious authorities – the scribes and Pharisees – have come up from Jerusalem to do an inspection, and have reached the conclusion that he’s not just crazy, but himself possessed.  This is why he can cast out demons, because he’s got one of the chief demons inside him. Much of this passage revolves around Jesus’ response to their accusation.

But worse, perhaps hearing that things are “getting out of hand,” guess who else shows up?  Jesus’ family, his mother and brothers and sister, to “restrain” him and take him home.

It’s so embarrassing, even the text struggles with it. Textual variations, reflected in some translations (as this one) try to soften it by saying, “His friends showed up to rescue him.” Maybe it was just too disconcerting to think that even Jesus’ family was beginning to think Jesus had lost it, perhaps been brainwashed, to the point of packing him up and taking him home.

Let’s face it, what Jesus preached were and still are radical ideas, upsetting to the conventions by we live. I personally remember well my parent’s reactions the day I came home and told them I had decided not to become a doctor, but to enter the ministry instead. Some of those reactions were pretty loud.  Even though they eventually came around, I think they thought I’d be poor all my life.  Turns out they were right.

I don’t know if Jesus knew their intent or not, or whether they had expressed their “concerns” to him. “Listen, Jesus, this Kingdom of God thing, don’t you think you’re going a little too far?  Why don’t you just find a nice young Jewish woman, settle down, have a few kids (grandkids), maybe teach a synagogue class on the side?”

Whether or not they had this conversation, they showed up that day and relayed a message that they wanted a word with him: “Your mother and brothers and sister are outside looking for you.” Jesus response was brusque to the point of rudeness: “Who are my mother and brothers?” So much for the fifth Commandment, “Honor your father and mother.”

Then, looking at those around him – the deformed, the diseased, the distressed, and the possessed – gesturing toward them, he said, “Right here, right in front of you — here are my mother and my brothers and my sister. For whoever does God’s will is my mother and brother and sister.”

It would be easy to hear Jesus’ words as a rejection of the family, even his own family. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.  I don’t think Jesus is demeaning the place of family, as much as he is expanding it, transcending it to make it embrace many more.

Jesus enlarges our understanding of family from biological and familial, to an understanding of family as those bound together by our common choice to seek and do God’s will.  Ultimately, it goes even beyond that: to see as family all those who bear the image of God, as disguised and as disfigured in them as it might be, as individuals worthy of our welcome, acceptance, and responsibility.

This, I believe, is one of the greatest realizations in life:  to move beyond the categories which divide us, such as self and family and tribe and race and nation – and to transcend them, seeing that there is so much more which unites and binds us, namely, that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.  In that regard, every man is my brother and every woman my sister, every older person my elder and every child, my child.  The great ones, the saints among us, the Gandhis and the Kings and the Mother Teresas, they were what they were because they realized this.

In this text, Jesus transcends our understanding of family not only in word, but in deed. His ministry is for everybody: Jews, Gentiles, the poor, the demented, the sick, working stiffs, women, tax collectors, outcasts of every kind. It was such people he pronounced family, over his own family.

If we were to transpose this vision into our own time, who might we see? Instead of lepers and demoniacs, might we see the strange bodies of the disabled? Might we see soldiers with bodies scarred from explosions in Iraq or Afghanistan, minds distraught from the horrors they have witnessed or committed? Might we see legless Afghan or Palestinian or Syrian children? Might we see and smell men and women reeking of cigarettes and coffee from AA meetings? Might we see gay men holding hands or a same sex couple holding a baby? Would we be as shocked and as disappointed as Jesus’ family was, when Jesus points to them and says, “These are my mothers and brothers and sisters.”

The truth is, none of those who came seeking Jesus were perfect. They reflect the diverse mass of humanity, with all our moral, physical, and spiritual imperfection. The sad thing is, the only ones not in the picture, not pressing on the doors and windows, not desperate to be near Jesus, to hear his words and feel his touch, were the ones who thought they already knew for sure what religion and family are supposed to look like.

Understandably, like them we may sometimes find ourselves confused. We, too, live in troubled times, and truth be told, struggle to be faithful. The Holy Spirit is always wild and disturbing and comes to us in unfamiliar forms and ways.  Are feminine images of God crazy and demonic, or are they healing, a welcome correction. Is same-sex love the sign of a disintegrating society, or a new breeze from the Holy Spirit? Is radical hospitality toward those we do not understand and might even reject, a weakness, or is it simply the divine recognition that we are all sisters and brothers, all the children of God.  What if we make the wrong discernment?

When it comes down to it, I prefer to be in that motley crowd seeking Jesus, whom he embraces; instead of in Jesus’ own family, whom, on that day, he rejected.

The day after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, on April 5, 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy spoke to the Cleveland City Club. Speaking of the culture of violence in our country, which in two months time would take his life, Senator Kennedy said:

“Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that   those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something.  Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work         a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our    hearts brothers and countrymen once again.” (Remarks of Senator Robert F. Kennedy to the Cleveland City Club, Cleveland, Ohio, April 5, 1968, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.)

If we can do this, we will be Jesus’ “modern family,” those who seek to do the will of God in our own time.  Amen.


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