Sharing God's Love
Trinity 1 – 2021
(Mark 3: 20 – 35)
In our Gospel reading we see a family having one of those moments most families would rather the world didn’t witness. A son gives his family the brush off. “Who are my mother and brothers?” he says, ignoring them in favour of the friends he has gathered around himself. The problem for us is that this particular son is Jesus himself. If you are looking for a model for traditional family values, Jesus is not the obvious choice, and his treatment of his anxious family here underlines that. He doesn’t seem ever to have married. He doesn’t appear to care about what would have been considered his sacred duty to continue the family line, and his message throughout the Gospels is consistent with what we see here; nothing should come before your commitment to God, not even your family.
So, what are we to make of all this? Should we be throwing away all our family ties? Of course not. What matters in the Bible isn’t what form a household takes – Biblical households were as varied as modern ones – but what happens within that household, the quality of relationships, the love that is shown by its members, or the lack of it. That was something which Jesus was passionately concerned about. His central message was about love – whether within or outside family life – valuing others as the precious children of God which they really are. Jesus treats those who are weak and vulnerable in his society’s eyes with particular care and honour, welcoming children, healing the sick, making it clear that they are not burdens but equals and he calls his followers to take seriously their responsibilities to those who depend on them. His attitude to women was especially unusual in his time. In a culture where they were largely confined to the home, Jesus encourages them to take a full place as his followers.
So Jesus is deeply concerned for families in the Gospels. After all, families are the context in which most people live most of their lives, whether they are under one roof or scattered far and wide. But the focus of Jesus’ concern isn’t on the outward appearance of the family – what shape it takes, but whether it conforms to the patterns his culture expected it to. It is the inner, real experience of the people in it that he cares about. Families, then as now, could be wonderfully supportive and liberating, or they could be prisons in which the God-given gifts of their members withered and died.
That’s why Jesus reacts as he does to this visit from his own family in today’s Gospel reading. Opposition to his message is mounting. He is challenging the religious leaders, and they don’t like it. They accuse him of being inspired by Satan, not by God, and the rumour is that he has gone mad. His reputation is bringing shame on his whole family and in a culture where conformity was highly valued, that was a serious matter. They come, says the Bible, intent on restraining him – the word that is used implies force. They want to drag him away, and put a stop to his preaching. But just because they are his family, even if they are motivated by care as well as shame, that doesn’t mean they are right. Children aren’t the possessions of their families. They are God’s gifts to the world, with callings and tasks of their own, and Jesus is the prime example of this. He needs to resist the temptation to fit in with the wish of his family that he should come home, keep quiet and do his duty as a good son, because if he does that, he will have to abandon his message and his ministry. Of course, there are times when we should listen to those nearest and dearest to us – they may be telling us things we need to hear – but we also have to learn to trust ourselves and our own perception of God’s calling.
Yet we all know what it feels like to be pulled in two directions. We like to fit in, to be accepted by family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. We don’t want to find ourselves out on a limb, regarded as odd or awkward or different . The pressure to conform can be a strong one. For Jesus it was the pressure to fit in with family expectations. We are all sensitive to the voices which call to us to be the person others want us to be, the person they are used to, especially if those voices come from people we care about.
But there is another call, beneath and beyond those voices, which is often hard for us to hear amid their clamours. It is the voice of God, calling out to us “Where are you?” calling us back to himself, back to ourselves too, to become the people he created us to be, each with unique gifts to give to the world, and a job to do. Perhaps we are called to challenge prejudices which those around us simply aren’t aware of. Perhaps we are called to stand up for someone our friends have written off. Perhaps we are called to make some radical changes to the way we spend our time, talents, money and energy, to refocus our lives in some way. All these things can be hard for those around us to accept or understand, but that does not mean we shouldn’t do them. In the end, the families, neighbourhoods and societies that are founded on lives lived with integrity, where each person heeds the call of God, will be ones where everyone is more richly blessed with his blessings and can thrive together.