Did Jesus Redefine ”Family”?

I’m not a joke teller.  I couldn’t even tell a knock knock joke to save my life.  I always get the punch line wrong or I forget to tell an important nugget of the story that is critical to making the joke actually work.  So, if you ever hear me tell a complete and funny joke in my sermons, you’ll know I either filched it from someone else, or the funny story is actually from my own life.

And thus begins our story for this morning’s Gospel passage:  a critical piece of information is left out of the lectionary reading.  We should get a little context before we are able to dive into the assigned reading for today.  If we back up in our Gospel of Mark to verse 13, Jesus has separated Himself from the crowds in that He’s gone up to the mountain and took with Him the twelve.  

Click here for today’s lectionary readings.

Our lectionary reading begins with verse 20, but it does not begin at the true beginning of the verse.  The first few words of the verse state “Then he went home.”  Jesus again separated Himself from the crowds.  He returned to His family, and in our passage of text for this morning, He sat down to break bread and to fellowship with them.  He went home to a safe space for rest and retreat.  He went to breathe and have moments of stillness.  Can’t we also understand the need for retreat?  I know I can relate sometimes to needing a bit of time to rest, to recharge my battery.  

I’ll come back to his actually being at home in a minute.  First, however, we don’t see the full scope in our passage of lectionary for the morning.  Well, let us back up a little further in chapter 3.  Let’s look at verses 7-12.

Jesus has been incredibly busy.  He’d been healing and preaching and traveling and leading and talking and casting out demons.  Amidst all of these activities, it is easy for us to forget that Jesus was fully human!  He was like us!  And He needed a moment away to breathe.

And now that all the pieces have been filled in and we have the complete scope of the story, let’s look further into our Gospel passage for today.  And I wish to pick back up where I left off regarding his being at home.  The crowds, as we are told, were pressing in and interrupting the fellowship He was enjoying with His family.  They were breaking into His retreat and causing such turmoil that Jesus could not even eat.  Imagine sitting at lunch after church today, enjoying your meal and easy conversation with your family and friends.  All of a sudden a mob breaks in, yelling, pushing, jabbing.  Hovering and harassing to the point that you cannot even bring a fork to your mouth, that you cannot even hear the words from the person sitting across the table from you.

This mob attacking Jesus, however, had leaders…as every mob does.  The leaders of this mob were Jewish scribes. These individuals were the ones who copied and transcribed the law.  These were individuals who scrutinized every word, every letter, even every space within Jewish text to exact the correctness of the law.  They were perfectionists of Jewish law, and they put such value on their work that as they believed they were adhering so intricately to the law that they were also invaluable to the culture because they brought forward Jewish history as well.  What they failed to understand was that they ignored the purpose, the spirit, the humanity of the law.  And Jesus was about to teach them a very hard lesson.

These scribes and followed Jesus to His home, and as He relaxed and ate with His family and the twelve disciples that He had called, the mob swarmed the house and began attacking and challenging Jesus.  But there is a key piece of information here in our story that needs to be addressed.  Jesus was badgered by the mob.  Remember we read in verses 7-12 about Jesus casting out demons?  Well, that fact resurfaces here.  As the family rests and converses with Jesus, they understood the purpose of the crowd was to cause harm to Jesus.  So what did they state to the scribes and the mob:  “He is out of his mind.”

While I do not in any way believe that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, betrayed Him to the crowd by calling Him insane, it seems possible from the text that there were members of his family and childhood friends who gathered with them at the house were attempting to protect Jesus from the mob.  They were trying to say that He was not in His right mind, a crime with less gravity of punishment that the crime of blasphemy.

Jesus, realizing that He would get no peace at this point and His moment of respite was been broken, stood and faced the crowd stating that it was ludicrous to think that Satan would cast out Satan.  It truly was sheer madness that someone would build a castle and then tear it down brick by brick.  Additionally, Jesus stated that not only was he not Satan, but that what He spoke throughout His ministry was in fact not blasphemy.  And this statement of truth regarding blasphemy, the letter-of-the-law perfectionist scribes would know very well.  They memorized the law, the words, letters, even the spaces between the words, and would know that Jesus was speaking the truth, as much as they would not want to admit it.

But Jesus said something at the end of our text.  He responds in a way that pricks my attention.  The crowd moved Him away from the house.  Pushed Him further from His family and childhood friends He’d just been with.  His family, a little way off now, were calling to Him, but He either couldn’t hear or was not responding.  The crowd says to him that His mother and brothers were wanting Him.  He response was that those who sat around Him now listening and learning were His mother and brothers, His family.  He said, “For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”

Was he abandoning His family with this statement?  No, I don’t believe so.  But, He was challenging the familial norm, changing the approach and way that family is defined.  He was stating that there will be family who do not understand, who speak without understanding the truth, who act in a way contrary to the heart of the individual.

Can we understand how this happens?  How an individual comes into a new truth and the family and childhood friends, in a fashion, question the individual’s sanity?  I believe we can certainly understand.  We see rhetoric in the news and social media today that cuts to the heart of the Gospel passage:  individuals who are divorced are maligned for breaking up the home by those who do not know the complete story, women who do not wish to be wives or mothers are told they are failing to fulfill their Christian duty to bear fruit and populate the earth, churches that split because of LGBT+ rights, those who are in multi-racial relationships are blasted for failing to keep to their own and bearing mixed-race children who won’t know which box to tick.

When we pray and listen and passionately follow the will of God, there will be those who question.  Questioning is okay.  Badgering and attacking and condemning is not.  When we seek to know and do the will of God to the utmost power of our ability, that is all Jesus asks.  He commands that we love God and love one another.  As my friend David Kerr says, “When we break away from what we have been trained when we were children, we should know there will be fallout.  Jesus calls us to question and to challenge our conditioning, to check our privilege.”

When we allow Jesus to restrain our weaker nature, our desire for self-protection, we will be remade.  And with our rebirth, we will be redefined in terms of who our neighbor is as well.  Our family will be remade over and over again.  If our circle of influence is being limited to a tighter and tighter group, perhaps we need to question our own sanity, our own conditioning.  Instead, let us breaks the chains of how we determine our owns laws, the parameter of our behavior.  Let us look outside the proverbial box and allow God to transform our perspective.  And, as we gain new and fresh sight because our hearts are being changed by the love and Jesus, we might just see our neighbor differently.  We might even call the most unlikely person brother, sister, father, mother.  And, we would only be able to do so as a result of the transforming love of Jesus. 

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