June 6, 2021

Pentecost 2B

Who is My Brother or My Sister or My Mother?

The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples 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.”
Mark 3:20-35

Family. We all come from one. Some families are loving, some are close, some are emotionally distant, some are strange, some are dysfunctional, some are abusive, and some are a combination of many of these things and maybe more.
No matter what type of family, each member has a role to play within it. These roles may be chosen or assigned. There is the Peacemaker, the Pretty One, the Black Sheep, the Smart One, the Religious One, the Baby, and so on. What was or is your role in your family?

But what happens when the Black Sheep starts acting like the Smart One? Or when the Peacemaker becomes the Artistic One? Or when the quiet one finds his or her voice and simply won’t shut up? The delicate system of roles is shaken. The other players must either try to put that person back into their role and place in the family or adjust to the new role that is being played. Guess which one folks usually choose?

Fear of the new role usually wins out, and the other family members often try to sabotage the fledgling before anything permanent can happen. We think we know what is best for the other person. Because really, it is what is best for us. When people stay in their assigned roles life is easier.
We fear change in our lives, so why would we support the change in the lives of others? It takes a strong person to become the person God created us to be. It takes a strong person to continue to make positive changes when it puts personal relationships in jeopardy.

In today’s gospel Jesus comes back to his hometown where his family lived. People were crowding him to see if he would heal them. Others were talking about him and not in very kindly ways, “He’s gone out of his mind,” they said. “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”

The people feared what they did not understand. We know what that is like. Jesus’ family tried to restrain him, but Jesus faced the crowd and faced his family as well. He was called by God to preach and teach and heal, and to do so as no one had ever done before, and that was his single-minded and single-hearted focus. He knew his role, but it was not necessarily the role that his family or his homies thought he should have.

God was doing a new thing in Jesus. That new thing impacted every aspect of what it means to be a person and every aspect of what it means to be in community. God was upending everything. In Jesus God was, to use a phrase coined by John Lewis, making good trouble. Among those givens that God was redefining was meaning of tribe and family.

God was expanding the bond of family: immediate, extended, and tribal, to include those who are not related to us by blood. And God is doing this new thing because he knows what is best for us. He knows that we need to meet and embrace every other, no matter their origin, as brother and sister, and that the only thing that would keep us apart is whether or not we are doing the will of God.

When Jesus declared, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” it challenged the Jewish culture around him. No longer are you close to God because you were born into a Jewish household; no longer do you just take care of your own kind; no longer are you only attached to those who share your tribal or familial blood, instead your family is being extended to anyone who does the will of His Father.

That certainly broadens the margins and challenges those who took their relationship with God for granted and who thought they understood what the word family, both in its narrow and broader sense meant.

Today, it challenges us to look beyond our walls, our socio-economic class, our faith communities, our nation, our ethnic or racial group and our family by blood, to embrace all those who are brothers and sisters and mothers to us.

Yes, blood indeed remains important, but it is now the blood of Christ that effects cohesive relationships between and among otherwise disparate and even otherwise alienated persons. God calls us to expand our family circle and our circle of care and love in ways that are just as shocking as they were to Mark’s first-century audience.

We should come to expect this from God. How successful are we when left to our own devices? Left to our own devices we tend to hold others at bay, to focus on their otherness from us, to fear engagement rather than risk embrace, to regard them as threats and even as enemies.

In today’s Old Testament lesson from First Samuel, when the people request an earthly king to rule them rather than God, Samuel is in a difficult position. The very request is a rebellion against God. But the Israelites want to be “like other nations.” How often do we want the same thing? We want to be “normal,” we want to have what other people have and we measure our worth by the standards of this world. We lose our focus and stop making our priority the will of God in order to gain or keep the approval of the family, or the crowd or the members of our tribe or nation.

And so, brothers turn against brothers, sisters against sisters, mothers against mothers. We fear others. We are greedy for what others have. This can only leave us feeling empty and seemingly worthless. We forget that we and every other person have value because God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.

Jesus understood this. He kept his focus on following God’s will and was clear about it, despite what his family or the crowds wanted from him.
The story is told of a man who traveled over land and sea to check out for himself, the Master’s extraordinary fame. “What miracles has your Master worked?”, he asked a disciple. “Well, there are miracles and miracles. In your land it is regarded as a miracle if God does someone’s will. In our country it is regarded as a miracle if someone does the will of God.”
We may smile at the story, but it speaks truth. Doing the will of God often means leaving our comfort zones. As Christians, our Baptismal Covenant demands a life that follows God by continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, in the prayers, resisting evil, repenting and returning to the Lord, proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. This is not an easy road to journey! Yet we readily answer, “I will, with God’s help.” And we did so once again, a few weeks ago, on Pentecost Sunday.

We cannot do God’s will alone. Jesus’ single-minded and single-hearted focus on God’s will is to be a model for us. This is those whom Jesus was speaking, when He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart” and affirmed that these “will see God”. We must have God’s help to follow the call of Jesus to be the people we were created to be. May we go forth today with a renewed confidence to live without fear. God has made us holy, has always protected us, and loves us as a mother loves her children. Let us in peace, go forth to follow the good way, the way of the cross, and may God’s blessing be with us always.

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna

June 6, 2021