Sunday, June 10, 2012

Our New Family: Sermon on Mark 3:13-21, 31-35

You can find the scripture passage here...

Have any of you ever had ‘family envy’? That’s a term I just made up, but I made it up in response to my own experience of it. I was at a wedding not too long ago, and when I met the family of the bride, well, I had a bad case of the malady. She was the youngest of four sisters, and within minutes of meeting them I was hearing hilarious tales of their childhood, beginning with an excursion one of them took involving a diaper and a twirling baton and culminating with an ill-fated and highly embarrassing trip to Baden-Baden. But it wasn’t the stories, exactly—it’s not that I wish I had been the one with the baton, or the one at Baden-Baden. It’s really that I wish I had been the one with the three sisters. Those shared memories, that experience of laughter until your stomach hurts, all that love.

I think it all started when I read “Little Women.”

Of course, one could look at it in precisely the opposite way, as well. One could say, “Thank God that’s not my family,” and I suppose the advent of reality TV has given all of us ample opportunity to have what you might call ‘family self-satisfaction.’ We can look at the sad or appalling or just plain bizarre exploits of the Duggar family or Jon and Kate and their eight, and then we can arrive at the conclusion that our own family is the best, the only configuration, you might say. Thank God we’re not those people, we sigh happily, as we tune in for the next episode.

Jesus’ mother and brothers may have had an experience of ‘family envy,’ in the passage we read this morning. Jesus was just acting so… well, bizarre. Jesus would have been ripe fodder for reality TV show. He was a miracle worker, and people would have tuned in to see what he would do next, or, more likely, to see him get his comeuppance—the child he couldn’t cure, the demon he couldn’t cast out. And here we see the kind of trouble that the network could have milked during May sweeps, with a month’s work of promos and all sorts of interviews in “TV Guide” and “Entertainment Weekly.”

“Miracle Man’s Family Turns on Him,” the headline would blare. Or, “Who’s Jesus’ Biggest Problem? The Scribes or Mom?”

It might be good to take a little time out right here to recall that we are now in Mark’s gospel again, after our long Lent and Easter journey into the gospel of John, and Mark presents Jesus in a very different way. Just one example of the differences: John shows us exactly seven miracles, or “signs” that Jesus performs. That’s all. The Jesus of Mark does seven miracles each day before breakfast… before we even get out of the first chapter of Marks’ gospel, Jesus has cast out two demons, healed a woman of a fever, and then proceeded to heal everyone who was sick in an entire town.

And another example: Mark and John show us very different pictures of Jesus’ family. Neither gospel tells us a story of Jesus’ birth. In John we see Jesus’ mother exactly twice: at the wedding feast in Cana, where Jesus performs his first miraculous sign, and then, standing vigil at the cross. In Mark, this scene is our only encounter with Jesus’ family, and it is not a story we know well. In fact, it’s a little shocking.

As our passage begins, Jesus’ reputation for healing has spread so far and so wide that he has become like a TV celebrity running from the paparazzi. People are pressing in on Jesus—sick people, people who can only explain what’s wrong with them by attributing their symptoms to demon possession. Jesus needs to get away, but more than that, he needs to have some help. It’s as if there were only one heart surgeon in the entire state of New York, and the only way to get to her was to stalk her office and her home and the restaurant she goes to. Something has to change, not only for the surgeon, but for all those poor people in need of operations.

So Jesus climbs a mountain, and he organizes his followers to help him. He appoints them, and in the gospel, they are called ‘apostles,’ which simply means, ‘those who are sent out.’ And Jesus sends them out with two distinct purposes: to preach the good news, his message of God’s reign, and to cast out demons. And then he tries to go home for some dinner.

But the crowd is there, more endless dozens of people who are in need of healing, and Jesus and his friends and family can’t even grab a sandwich. And at this point, his family has had it. They have just had it. And so they go to restrain him, which, I think, means, to give him a good shake, to knock a little sense into him, because, our translation says, “people were saying, ‘he has gone out of his mind’” [Mark 3:21]. That’s a bad translation. It’s not that ‘people’ were saying it. His family was saying it. They thought Jesus had gone mad.

As shocking as this idea is, that Jesus’ family would have been, not only “unsupportive” of his ministry, but actively hostile to it, I think all we have to do is look at the portion I skipped over to understand the kind of danger Jesus was in. For the scribes to be, not only critical of Jesus, but to accuse him of being demon-possessed, is a serious situation indeed. Of course, it’s also a glaring failure in logic, as Jesus points out. But I imagine Jesus’ family is frightened for him. They want to protect him. So their first move is to try to pressure him to just quit it.

Jesus is not inclined to quit it. And when the crowd tells him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you,” Jesus gets a kind of funny smile on his face, and says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And then, with a sweeping gesture, he opens his arms in an embrace of those sitting around him, and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” [Mark 3:32b-35].

Here, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus re-defines family. No longer are kinship ties most important social unit, Jesus says. As one writer summarizes it, “For Jesus, family—at least, one type of family—is a community of people joined as an expression of their commitment to discover and manifest God’s will.”[i]  I can hardly think of a better definition of “church.”

Today we have welcomed three people into the family that is the church, and next week we will welcome eight more; and each time we do this, in a sense, the church becomes a new family, enriched as we are by these lives whose paths join with ours on the Christian journey. At the heart of this family, rather than a shared gene pool, is the commitment to discover together, and then try to live out, where God’s voice is calling us. At the core of this family, rather than a set of legal privileges and responsibilities, is the invitation to join with Jesus in the risky business of speaking God’s truth and sharing God’s healing. And yes, there will be shared memories, and there will be an abundance of laughter, and there will be love. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

[i] Matthew L. Skinner, “What Makes a Family? Mark 3:20-35” ON Scripture,, 1.


  1. Hi Pat,
    Just wanted you to know I still enjoy reading your sermons each week. I listen to the gospel and sermon in my church and then read yours to see what the message for the morning really was about. I still miss my friends at Union Pres. Best wishes always, Debby Ludwig

  2. Debby, so nice to hear from you! I'm glad you find the sermons helpful... we miss you too! Prayers and blessings for a wonderful summer.