Broad Brook Congregational Church
Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 7, 2015
Family, you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. That is my opening for one of the most misused and problematic texts in the Gospels. This unusual passage does not appear often since the Sunday it is paired with does not always occur in the church calendar. The fluidity of dates for Easter, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday and the number of Sundays in a month are factors determining the fate of this lectionary reading. Most pastors are grateful for that fact; also many opt to preach on the Genesis passage when the Markan text does occur. I seem to want to take on the challenge and find a nugget of good news in these difficult texts.
This scene from the beginning of Jesus ministry must have seemed as chaotic to those experiencing it as it does to us. Anyone who has read the Gospel According to Mark in one sitting get the frenetic pace of the story. Mark’s Jesus was a man on a mission. Many of the sentences in the narrative begin with the word “immediately.”
In the first three chapters alone Jesus has traveled to at least 16 different sites.
I tell you this so that you can begin to understand the physical and mental strain that Jesus was experiencing. Travel was not simple. Finding accommodations was not easy. Food and drink availability depended on the hospitality of their hosts. Feeding thirteen men might have been a community project. Add to those conditions the throngs of people desperate for healing that clung to him. To top it all off were his ever-present critics who picked at everything he did.
Much brokenness and need
With each healing event that Jesus did the crowds grew larger and more desperate for a chance to receive freedom from their demons and forgiveness for their sins. But it also brings out the critics. You and I would begin to buckle under the weight of all the stress and strain. Our hope would be to find a quiet place for some R&R. That is what Jesus was hoping for too. But crowd control was out of their hands. Jesus could not even have a quiet dinner with friends. He was hounded by people, who in their brokenness sought wholeness, as well as the critics, who by now were overlooking the wonderful work God was doing in Jesus, and preferred to find only fault. Then surprisingly there in the midst of the crowd is Jesus’ brothers and his mother. So great is the suffering crowd that Jesus’ family can’t get near him to talk with him.
Will anyone have Jesus back ?
Things are beginning to get quite difficult now. Jesus, if you remember, has been performing exorcisms—driving out demons. It is hard for us to grasp the idea of exorcism. Merging the ancient worldview of demonic behavior with our modern medical views of conditions such as mental illness and epilepsy is challenging. It is easier for us to dismiss such ancient views as primitive than it is for us to sit for a minute with the idea of exorcism. We have our own forms of exorcisms. Our God-given gifts of modern marvels of medicine cast out demons for schizophrenics and others suffering from mental illnesses. I believe Jesus’ healing abilities and our medical capabilities come from the same life-giving source—God. Demons were not and are not limited to physical ills. Evil is alive and well just as it was in Jesus’ time. Jesus’ exorcisms should not be locked away despite our discomfort with them.
What motivated Jesus’ family to come and get him? The evangelist does not tell us. Was it concern for his safety and welfare, or some have suggested it was their concern over his exorcisms. Perhaps it was both. Parents are motivated by concern for their offspring to talk some sense into their children no matter their age. ( The reflection for this week didn’t make it into the bulletin. It was from Erma Bombeck. “When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it’s a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.”) What ever their reason, it appears that Jesus’ family was attempting what we call an intervention. This idea is supported by the Greek verb used here that can mean, “arrest”, “grab”, or “seize” (Richard Deibert, Mark: Interpretation Bible Studies). They move through the crowd to reach the outside door to the house where Jesus was sitting. The house sets up a boundary. There are those on the inside and those on the outside. When you think about it, who is in and who is out is a question that exists in the life of the church—the house that Jesus built, today (Sermon Seeds June 7, 2015).
Mom, you’re not helping
There is an Insurance commercial about a fender bender. One man has the good insurance company that is right there lickety split to say he is covered. The other man is not as lucky. It shows his mother using a pay phone in the middle of nowhere and she says, “Six callers ahead of us, Jimmy.” Her son replies, “You’re not helping!”
Just like that son, Jesus did not find his mother and brother’s concerns helpful. We wonder how Jesus could dismiss his family. Family mattered and determined who you were. But if you had read the beginning of the Gospel, which contains no birth/infancy narrative, you might arrive at the same conclusion that Gerald Caron did who writes, “In all likelihood, Mark…did not know of any positive traditions about the family of Jesus” (Mark in the Lectionary).
Failure to recognize God’s good works
What is the one sin that won’t be forgiven? “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3: 28b). This is a disturbing statement from Jesus. Lamar Williamson, Jr. can help shed light on the text when he says “that sin against the Holy Spirit ‘is unforgivable because it rejects the very agent of God’s healing and forgiveness.’ Only those who set themselves against forgiveness are excluded from it” (Mark, Interpretation). Rev. Kathryn Matthews (Huey) writes that there is agreement among many scholars that the unforgivable sin here is a failure to see evil for what it is and goodness for what it is, “and to recognize, to acknowledge the difference” (Sermon Seeds). There are those in the crowd including the religious leaders who see Jesus doing evil. They cannot see God’s good works right in front of them. “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter” (Mark 3:28a). Those who had set themselves against forgiveness missed Jesus’ message of the wideness of God’s mercy.
Will Family help us to choose God’s will?
The answer depends on the openness and flexibility of the family. “If we create an idol, Matthews writes, a fixed, immutable “god” of one way of living, one source of life and strength and identity, instead of recognizing the ground of all being, the source of all life, the identity we share as children of God then family will become an obstacle to faithfulness.
Families can also be a foundation of teaching and support moving us to do new things as well as being a springboard that moves us out into the world to be of service to those in need. The church family functions in much the same way.
Jesus re-frames family for the church—the house he built.
This text changes the definition of family. Jesus neither rejects his birth family nor the establishment of family. Instead, he blows wide open the definition of family. As Jesus looks out over the crowd he declares “This is my family.” The sinners, lepers, demoniacs, the religious experts, they are all members of Jesus’ family. If we were to look out on the crowd that is the church family today what would it look like? We might see soldiers whose bodies are burned from a firefight of war. We might see the peculiar bodies of the differently-abled. We might see a group of men smelling of coffee and cigarettes at an AA meeting. We might see Palestinian or Afghan children with missing limbs. We might see the sunken eyes and swollen bellies of the starving Sudanese. We might see the hopeless faces of the homeless. We might see a gay couple holding their adopted child. We might see the angry faces of young black men who have lived far to long surrounded by violence. We might see the anxious faces of the jobless waiting in the unemployment line. We might see twin baby girls joined at the abdomen. When we think about who is near Jesus, Wendy Farley writes, it is not the morally perfect. It is just the diverse mess of humanity, with all of its moral, physical, spiritual beauty and imperfection. The only ones not in the picture, not pressing in closer to be near Jesus are the ones “who think they know what religion and family life are supposed to look like (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3).
“Nibs Stroupe reminds us that demons still hold us captive whenever the powers of racism, materialism, patriarchy, and militarism rule our individual and collective lives” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3). Despite the dangers and challenges of this text the good news is that Jesus comes to free us. The Gospel calls us to compassionate living and to widen our framework of family. Who is Jesus family? The answer is: those who do the will of God. Following Jesus is not for the faint of heart but we are forgiven our failed attempts at community. As long as our hearts, minds, and eyes are open to the goodness in front of us and we are able to recognize and destroy the holds of our demons with Christ’s help we grow in faith and love and spread the grace of God.