Family Ties; Mark 3:20-21, 31-35
Plymouth First United Methodist Church, June 6, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
Every family has a story. Well, lots of stories.
One of my family stories involves a little girl born of a young woman who fell in love with a soldier before the end of World War 2. The young woman, without the knowledge or approval of her family ran away with the man and planned to marry him as soon as possible. Before that could happen, her aunts somehow located her and took her back home. When her pregnancy was discovered, she was promptly deposited in a home for unwed mothers in a different city.
Though she wasn’t allowed to keep the child, she also wasn’t forced to give her for adoption, so for the first two years of her life the little girl was passed around from aunt to aunt. One of the families longed to adopt the little girl; she lived with them from the time she was 3 until kindergarten. The uncle at that point insisted they be allowed to adopt her, and that finally happened, to the delight of her two older sisters who doted on her.
The little girl grew up—talented, outgoing and beautiful, some of that due to nature, some due to nurture.
In her 20’s, as she began her own family, the little girl, now a woman, embraced her family of origin, beginning to call her birth mother “mom” while calling her adoptive mother—the woman who raised her—by her first name. Her 2 doting sisters who still remembered bringing the crying little girl into their beds each night were set aside for younger half-sisters, born of her birth mother.
Harsh words were never expressed, no ultimatums were made that she needed to choose. The young woman followed her heart, leaving some aching hearts behind as she made her choices. Over the years the aching hearts mostly healed, as the family learned to balance the love for their daughter with her need to embrace another family.
Every family has a story. Lots of stories. Some stories make you smile as you remember them. Other stories tug at your heart.
My family story came to mind when I thought of Mary standing outside of the house where Jesus was that day. She had come, along with Jesus’ brothers and sisters to take him back home. They had heard the stories that everyone else was hearing: the crowds who were following him everywhere he went, pressing in on him, seeking healing and comfort, seeking their demons be cast out, their lives made better. His family knew the religious experts/the scribes/the teachers of the law were following him as well, for very different reasons. They were watching his every move, challenging him at every opportunity, looking for a reason to arrest him. They felt he was causing trouble, “confusing” people with his teachings, making them suspicious of the ways they had once accepted. Instead of being followers of the Law, it seemed people were becoming followers of Jesus, and to the teachers of the law this was not acceptable.
Jesus is inside the house. The narrator tells us that the house is so filled with people, with activity, that they can’t even eat. From Mary’s perspective, from the perspective of his siblings, he’s unable to eat…with all these people around all the time, surely he’s also unable to rest… Can these stories they’ve heard be true? It’s too much. This isn’t good. It isn’t safe. Fearing for his health—his physical health—his mental health (the Common English Bible, the New Revised Standard and the New International Versions state that he’s “out of his mind”) they come to fetch him to take him home. To take care of him. To make him rest. To keep people away from him. For his own good. To keep him safe. From the religious authorities. From himself.
Jesus is inside the house. His family is outside the house. Jesus is teaching. The people are listening. They’re taking it in. The religious leaders are listening. They’re taking it in. They’re saying he’s possessed by an evil spirit.
His family can’t get into the house. It’s like being caught in the crowd at the Blueberry Festival, but no one is moving. No. One. Is. Moving. They pass on the word: Tell Jesus we’re out here. We want to see him. Tell him to please come out to us. (Surely, he would come out to see us! We’re his family!) We can’t get inside to where he is.
The word is passed on, Jesus receives it, and he replies: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He looks around at those who are inside the house: “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.”
To hear him say it, either directly through the windows, or indirectly by way of a messenger who passes his words on to her—must have felt like the man who she claims as her son, no longer considers her his mom. His brothers and sisters, who have grown up admiring their big brother, must have felt forgotten, set aside. Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? My sisters? Not you. No, not you.
We read this and it troubles us. This goes counter to what we believe should be happening in Christian homes today. We love God, but we love our families, too. When Scott and I were raising our kids, James Dobson and Focus on the Family was a big deal. Family values, marriage, parenting—lots of books and radio shows and other resources available to help folks do these things well. I have a feeling that these words of Jesus weren’t a centerpiece of those teachings. These words were not often quoted as a goal for how your children will one day respond to you after you’ve done your best to raise them the right way.
And this isn’t the only time Jesus says something that catches our attention and puzzles us about family relationships. No one is worthy to be a disciple who prefers his family to him, or in Luke’s words: “if anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters…he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). When a would-be disciple protests that he must first bury his father, Jesus tells him rather curtly, “Follow me and leave the dead to bury the dead” (Matthew 8:21-22). Matthew tells us that when James and John abandon their fishing to follow Jesus, they leave behind their boat and their father, Zebedee in the boat (Matthew 4:21-22). Jesus’ mission causes animosity between family members: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law and a man’s foes will be in his household” (Matthew 10:31, 35-36).
Perhaps Jesus is challenging us to consider the relationships that are closest to us—most important to us—can be the ones that hold us back. In some respects, we can’t help but want to keep our children close, to protect them from the evils of the world.
I remember when our youngest climbed onto that school bus the first time as it took her to kindergarten. I remember those big steps and my little girl climbing onboard. I had friends
who cried all day when their little one went off to school. Scott and I went out for breakfast. But I remember when 2 of them went to college how that was harder. They only went to Vincennes and Indianapolis, so they weren’t so far away. But I cried as we drove away. A chapter had ended and I was pretty sure they still needed their mom. When they hit the marrying age, we might think we get a vote, but as we raise them, a big part of what we’re doing is teaching them to live independently, to make good choices, to be successful when we’re not around.
We don’t raise our kids to keep them close, we raise them to send them out, to think for themselves, to follow in the way God is calling them, rather than in the way we’d like them to go. We don’t hold them back because we’re bad people…we do it because we love them. And yet they need to listen to voices other than our voices…to learn what we might not be able to teach them.
A woman was talking about her family. What good people they were and what a blessing they were in her life. Growing up in the deep south, she didn’t realize until later, the racial prejudices that were a part of her family’s story. That doesn’t mean that she suddenly realized her family were bad people—they were still very good people—but they had blind spots, she had blind spots, and now she was learning a new way.
We tend to gravitate toward people who are like us. Who look like us. Who live like us. And we end up having blind spots.
Honestly, Jesus was more like the religious leaders who were always following him around and challenging him. They weren’t bad people. They were good people. They were trying to protect their religious beliefs! And his genes were that of his mom and sister and brothers outside the house that day—they weren’t bad people either! They were good people trying to do a good thing! They thought they were there to protect Jesus from himself and everybody else! But each in their own way were seeking to hold him back from doing what God was calling him to do. And for Jesus, a part of living out that call was creating a new family, a new community. Remember how Jesus tended to gravitate toward people who didn’t have a family, who were lost or alone. With Jesus they had family. With Jesus they weren’t lost anymore. With Jesus, they were no longer alone.
Jesus wasn’t being anti-family or individualistic—remember in John’s gospel how at the cross, he makes certain that care will be provided for his mom after his death. But here in this scripture, Jesus points us outward, toward a family of believers—a faith community—where we might stretch and grow and be challenged to new possibilities as we listen to his stories.
Every family has a story. Stories that make us smile. Stories that tug at our hearts. But we also have a story we share, that binds us together. We might ask ourselves, do we love Jesus enough to welcome and weave others into a new God-shaped kind of family committed to loving all as Jesus loves? As followers of Jesus Christ, may that shared story—His story—turn us outward and lead us forward. In Jesus name. Amen.