Mark 3: 20-35
The American family, it’s a conundrum. Now days it comes in many shapes and forms. We only have to look at television to see how the American family has been portrayed through the years. Here’s a quick, non-inclusive, unauthorized look –
There is the quintessential family in ‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘Leave It To Beaver’ where you have one father, one mother with children, all Caucasian and then there was also the same configuration but with a multi-cultural focus with ‘The Goldberg’s’, a Jewish family living in New York City in the 40’s, ‘The Cosby Show’ and ‘Family Matters’ both featured African American families living in urban areas.
There was a rash of television shows that featured widowers like ‘Andy Griffith’, ‘My Three Sons’, and ‘Make Room for Daddy’, although ‘daddy’ didn’t stay single for too many season’s, he remarried after some time yet adding another dimension to the family to make us think.
Then, not to be outdone, divorced women had their hayday in television with, ‘Kate and Allie’, ‘One Day at a Time’, and ‘The Partridge Family’. They sure had their struggles trying to get by but somehow they always did. And we can’t forget that maverick mother ‘Murphy Brown’ who had her child out of wedlock. That controversial season seems like a long time ago now, doesn’t it? Fortunately she had her housepainter to help her care for the child when she eventually went back to work.
And today there is ‘Modern Family’ a show that has just about every type of American family you can think of in it; a straight couple with children, a gay couple with a child, and a multi-cultural couple, second marriage for both with a child from her first marriage.
What binds all of these shows together are the families’ ability to transcend the troubles of life, to persevere through good times and bad, and the very human capacity and willingness to love in spite of, in light of, and because of it all.
If television is any mirror of society then the American family has changed through the years and is without any clear definition but we were not the first to rethink what it means to be a family. Jesus does it quite jarringly in our scripture today.
Jesus had, by now, been traveling around the Galilee healing paralytics and a man with a withered hand, even a leper. He appoints twelve men to become his devoted disciples and they head back to his hometown of Nazareth. I’m sure by now he has gained quite a reputation but not really a golden one. I’m mean who would want a family member who has the audacity to redefine Torah and prophesies such things as the ‘kingdom of God?’ That’s one outlandish family member.
Hear now our scripture from the Gospel of Mark, the third chapter.
Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.’
And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
‘Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’— for they had said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
It doesn’t sound like this is such a proud parent moment for Mary. Who would want their child gallivanting around Galilee as a self appointed rabbi and prophet? So when Jesus returns home, and probably an embarrassment to the family, they call out to him to hush up, they wanted to rein him and his activities in. Gender roles and occupations were very well defined in ancient Palestine. Prophet was not one of them. He was supposed to be the son of a carpenter after all, follow in the family business. He was supposed to be respectable, settle down, and marry a nice Jewish girl.
They expected several generations of families to live together in one household, to not stray very far. Even today Arabs in the Palestinian territories build several floors up so that different generations can be accommodated. The top floor is open with beams ready and waiting to build and enclose for another generation.
Jesus wasn’t quite living up to the family expectations. His words and his actions upend conventional standards for an obedient son and for what it means to be a family. For Jesus families are no longer only blood related. The family that Jesus is talking about are those family members who choose to be together and who choose to do the will of God.
When he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?, he does not reject his own family. His family of origin is still in tact. When he says, “Here are my mother and brothers”, Jesus expands what it means to be a family to include others into the fold. He invites us to look at the wideness of God’s mercy and love for all people and to call them our family too. He invites us to follow along in this generous offer.
His brothers, sisters and mother are those who strive to do the will of God. And while we will never exactly know what God’s will is, that would be rather presumptuous of us, we do know that God requires us to love kindly, to act and think in just ways and to walk down the divine path always. (Micah 6:8) When we do that we will have achieved the purposes of a just and ethical God who loves us like no other.
But let’s face it, that’s real hard. If someone doesn’t look like you or think like you, if someone doesn’t live quite the manner in which you live it becomes more difficult to love kindly, doesn’t it? But if we are to walk humbly on the divine path then doing the right thing trumps that which makes you feel uncomfortable.
It is no less true for a church family. Being open to each person who crosses the threshold of this sanctuary and saying that you are open to each person achieves the ‘do justice’ part of what God requires of us. God will get you there and will work through it with you.
Who are your brothers and sisters? They are people who hurt like you, who hunger like you, who have the same worries as you. They are people who get up each morning and want to do their best to make meaning of their lives just like you. They are people who love God just as much as you do and believe in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Aren’t we blessed to be part of the human family of God’s desire?