a Homily for Proper 5B
Text: Mark 3:20-35
Jesus is surrounded. He’s trapped. No way out.
This morning’s story opens with a claustrophobic scene. This enormous crowd that has been following Jesus is getting out of hand. He has already feared getting trampled. Now they are closing He and his disciples in. They can’t go anywhere. He can’t leave or do anything. He is trapped.
Then some Jewish leaders, who have heard that Jesus is home, come down to badmouth Him to the crowd. The crowd has already started wondering if Jesus has gone off his rocker. But they go further than “Yo’ Mama” jokes and stories about messing around with interns. They say Jesus has gone crazy—because the devil got in.
Jesus just wants to eat lunch with his disciples, and they can’t even do that. So He stands up and he starts teaching. This is a strange moment, but see the tension in it: one group of people is outside the circle. They are impugning the character of Jesus and are desperate for more miracles and personal saving. Inside the circle are Jesus and his closest followers, simply trying to take a break and have lunch. This is a highly symbolic moment of outside and inside. And into this division and strife wades Jesus’s family. His mother, his brothers and sisters, and they come and call to Jesus.
I imagine them saying: “We’re here, Sweetheart! Let’s go home! We’ll keep you safe! Just come home with us.”
My loving family
This request must be tempting. I’d be tempted. Go home. Escape this craziness.
Jesus doesn’t. He flips the script. He says This is home. This is my family.You, out there aren’t my real family. Perhaps because they are out there and not with Him.
This story is a punch to the gut, isn’t it? I’m lucky that I have never been estranged from my family, but two of my cousins have lived it. Not having a Mother or Father as Mom and Dad. Leaving a sister to wonder if she would see her brother on her wedding day.
And in college, these types of stories were more common with my friends. None of us could assume any of our friends represented the nuclear family. They could have had between 1 and 4 parents. Or perhaps even six or more. Brothers and sisters they have met only a few times. Some that found their way back into their parent’s life, only to disappear again.
To speak of family as Jesus does here must be hard for many of us to hear. Because Jesus rejects His own family and gives that new honor to this group. If any of us did this, we’d say that this person has joined, or worse, founded a cult. This is my family. Those that do God’s work are my family.
In another part of scripture, Jesus warns that your family may not be coming with you. To connect it to this text, when you become one of those people that is inside with Jesus, you may have to do it without your family. You may have to leave them outside.
The highly visual nature of this story is great for us, I think, because the visual demonstrates something powerful and important. These people are truly separated from Jesus; they are made far from Him. But it doesn’t say the way in is barricaded or that there is violence. I’m sure the people could come to Jesus. They don’t. Not even Jesus’s relatives: his birth family. None comes in, they expect Him to come out.
We also have this idea that Jesus and his followers couldn’t even eat lunch, the crowd was too close, too grabby, too demanding of attention. They want Jesus, the Magic Man to do more crazy stuff: heal more people, make the demons dance like puppets, show off that power. This enormous crowd isn’t following Jesus for God’s reasons, but for their own. This can be pretty condemning.
It can also give us something incredibly different. We can come inside and join Jesus for lunch. Not expecting magic, not demanding personal miracles, or seeking some sort of payment for our faith. No token or gift. We can come and eat, with friends and family.
‘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.’ (vv.33b-35)
He establishes this great standard of family for all of us. This idea that family is made up not simply of some blood bond or some legal standard, but of an open, inclusive sort. He tells his closest friends and followers that there are two reasons they are family: 1) they are with Him and 2) they do the will of God.
For us, this is both a liberating and demanding moment. That family is not oppressive or restrictive or exclusive, but truly where our heart is: for Jesus, that means our hearts match the great commandment of loving God and our neighbor. That our work of love defines us. Not as doctors or lawyers or sales professionals but our work for God makes us family, and gathering around the table together makes us family. That family is defined by our work and our community.
This challenges us to see our table fellowship –our gathering in Christian community—as equal and necessary to our doing God’s work. He doesn’t say they are family for living a good life or for being good people. Nor does he say they are family for being born a certain way into a certain group. For Jesus, family is about God’s work and gathering together.
As we gather here as family, let us raise up our commitment to God, one another, and God’s mission: these are the responsibilities and expectations of this family.
[NOTE: There are several other ways to tackle this Scripture. In this video from last week, I tackle another perspective; that the main question isn't what makes up family, but what makes up the crowd.]