10 June 2018
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Revd Jonathan Cain
2 Corinthians 4: 13 – 5: 1; Mark 3: 20-35
“When Jesus’ family heard that he was home, that a crowd had come together again that was preventing him from eating, and that some hostile scribes had come down from Jerusalem to confront him, they went out to restrain him.”
I want to begin this morning by telling some stories about mothers and their sons as a way in to understanding the potential motivation for the actions of Jesus’ family in this extract. The mothers in my stories are my wife Rebecca, and her friend Julie. The sons in my stories are Nicholas, aged 19, currently training in dance and musical theatre, and Daniel, aged 21, who has just reached the end of basic training as a Royal Marine Commando.
Nicholas left home for Laine Theatre Arts, Epsom last September, and it is fair to say that the time between has been an emotional rollercoaster for him and his mother (and for his father for that matter – but I’m not part of this story). Vocational training as a dancer is all Nicholas has ever wanted to do, and it is tough. The environment is very competitive – the students are actively encouraged to compare themselves to each other – and pastoral care is not a priority for members of the faculty. At Christmas time the school was rocked by the tragic suicide of one of last year’s students.
Daniel left home for the Royal Marine Commando Training Centre, Lympstone last July. The regime is punishing both physically and mentally. Daniel has coped with it very well, but in his time he has had the odd brush with fellow trainees and with authority in the form of NCOs and the Military Police. He will pass out soon, and Julie is still coming to terms with the fact that her boy has been trained as an elite amphibious fighter.
It is fair to say that both Rebecca and Julie have been tempted to go out and restrain their sons on more than one occasion. The worlds that Nicholas and Daniel inhabit are alien to their families, and the environments seem at times to threaten mental and physical well-being. I’m sure this instinct to restrain children when what they are doing appears risky is one recognised by all of us who are parents. And yet the worlds that Nicholas and Daniel inhabit are also worlds where they are flourishing, and that open up new insights and possibilities for their families. Rebecca and Julie are anxious, and also excited.
The early chapters of Mark’s gospel account are full of action. They describe a roller-coaster ride packed with healing, preaching, gathering followers, and calling disciples. The world that Jesus begins to open up with all of this action is the one long hoped for in Israel, and in Luke’s account we read how Jesus identifies himself with the claims made by the Jewish prophet Isaiah. Jesus says:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
This claim by Jesus and the actions that support it are exciting …
And yet from the start of his ministry Jesus faces opposition. At the end of the gospel passage last week we read that a group of Pharisees and Herodians were plotting to destroy him. This week scribes travel from Jerusalem, call into question Jesus’ mental state, and accuse him of being in league with Satan. Jesus’ opponents are powerful. Mary his mother has been warned that Jesus will be opposed, and that a sword will pierce her own soul, but her instinct is to protect. She and his siblings perceive danger, and they set out to stop him.
When Mary and Jesus’ sisters and brothers arrive at the place where Jesus is, they are prevented from getting inside because of the crowd. A message gets to Jesus that his family are outside and he responds in a way that at first reading might appear dismissive, rude even: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he says.
I don’t think Jesus responds in this way because he has forgotten his family. I don’t think Jesus responds in this way because he wants to disown his family. Remember Jesus is in teaching mode; his family have just arrived when he is at work.
“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.’”
Again I don’t think Jesus intends to discount the importance of his human family, but he uses their arrival to illustrate his message … in word and deed Jesus is setting about founding a new family, a new community, the kingdom of God “eternal in the heavens” as St Paul has it.
“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” What an inclusive and expansive statement this is. What an exciting world of possibilities it opens up. Any woman or man who does what God wants to be done qualifies for admission to this new community, and becomes truly related to Jesus in the kingdom of God. Whoever …
At this point in the narrative fears for Jesus’ safety prevent members of his family from perceiving this new community; their vision is obscured. The key question for us is what fears and anxieties obscure our vision? Do we share Jesus’ vision for a new community as inclusive and expansive as whoever? To do so would be to follow Jesus’ example and to do what God wants, and it requires a certain openness of heart … and that can be difficult.
How easy it is to make judgements and divide people up; those like us, and those not like us. And how many different criteria are applied automatically to make those judgements, particularly when there is some narrative in the culture, or indeed in the church that feeds anxiety and prejudice. And how hard one has to work to overcome this tendency and keep our hearts open. Or is that just me?
Jesus encourages us to recognise in the kingdom of God, which already exists in our world, innumerable brothers, sisters and mothers of Jesus; family who we may not recognise now, but whose identity will be known in the glorious kingdom to come.