Date: June 10, 2012
Text: Mark 3:20-35
Theme: Jesus talks family
Lesson: Family is a blessing, especially the Family of God
Of the many themes this text covers, I’d like us to focus today on Jesus’ teaching about family. All of us are a part of a family in one way or another—either as a parent, child, cousin, etc. We know that families exert a huge influence on us, whether from days past or from our current situation. What does Jesus say in today’s text about these relationships we know as “family?”
We can start be remembering that Jesus had his own family. There was his mother, Mary. Also his father, Joseph, who was more like a step-father in some ways, and about whom we have no knowledge after Jesus was 12. And Jesus also had some brothers, although whether these were biological siblings or step-siblings or cousins we are not sure.
One might assume that everything would be great with Jesus’ family, being that he was the Son of God and all. But in today’s text we see a picture of conflict. Jesus had earlier moved out of the house, and had even said: “a prophet is without honor in his hometown.” The text today says he’s “at home,” which at that time was Capernaum, not far from Nazareth where he grew up. Jesus would later say “foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Home was only so important to him. But here in Capernaum he was among friends and at a place where he could supposedly rest and re-group. It was home, such as it was. But then, his family shows up. And his family thinks they need to do something.
Today we call it an “intervention.” The family decides that one among them has a problem, and so the rest decide to take action together. Usually there is a confrontation. Sometimes a plan of action. In Jesus’ family’s case, the verdict was “he’s out of his mind” and the plan was to “seize him”—probably to take him back to Nazareth and get him away from his new friends.
And why would Jesus’ family think he was crazy? He was preaching, teaching, healing, helping—all good things, right?
Perhaps it was the number of people whom Jesus was helping. He was keeping quite a schedule. According to these first few chapters of Mark Jesus was everywhere – one minute going to a synagogue and healing on the Sabbath, raising the ire of the Pharisees, the next minute casting out evil spirits, then teaching beside the water with a boat lest he be crushed by the crowds, then up on a mountain choosing disciples.
Actually, the scriptures suggest that it was much more than this. According to John’s Gospel, Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5). They probably felt that Jesus was, in fact, getting out of control. He had many followers, and had recently appointed 12 of them as apostles—no doubt choosing that number 12 to remind people of the 12 tribes of Israel. Then there’s the fact that he went up a mountain to do this, just like Moses. And, most disturbing of all, he started to contradict the teachings and traditions of the established religious leaders.
Speaking of the religious leaders, they soon came with an intervention of their own. The scribes came all the way from Jerusalem to make a pronouncement about Jesus. And instead of saying “he’s out of his mind” they said something even more condemning—they said he was from the Devil. They used the name “Beelzebul”—a name that comes from the old Canaanite name for their fertility god—Baal the prince. In Jesus’ day it simply meant the devil, or as Jesus says here—Satan.
Jesus defends himself by saying that their accusation is illogical. How can Jesus be the devil if he is casting out devils from those who were possessed? He tells a little parable about a strong man and speaks about true blasphemy—both meant as responses to the Scribe’s accusations.
We’ll look at those statements of Jesus in a bit, but first let’s pause to think about our families, and whether they have ever tried to intervene in a way that Jesus’ family did. We all know that some families are very supportive and even encouraging of our spiritual lives. My family was thrilled when I announced that I intended to be a pastor. However, that’s not always the way it works. Martin Luther’s father did not want him to be a pastor. At our District Convention last week there was a pastor who shared that his father, too, was not so thrilled about his career choice.
And it’s not just those who decide to be pastors. Sometimes family arguments take place over whether a person should serve at church or do work around the house for the family. Sometimes parents shush their kids when they start talking too openly about Jesus. Sometimes one family member vehemently protests against the amount of money another member feels should be given to the church.
It’s sad when there is disagreement within families. It’s even sadder when people discourage their fellow family members from living out the faith. It happened to Jesus. And it happens today too.
As the narrative of the text progresses we see that Jesus’ family persists in their intervention. They send in a message to Jesus, through the crowd, that they were at the house and wanted to see him. Jesus, however, gives a response that is at the same time memorable, direct, and in some ways shocking. “Who is my family,” he says. Is Jesus insulting his family here? No. He is making a point. He looks at those who are with him—those who are listening to Jesus and following him in faith. And he says: “Those who do the will of God are my family.”
These are powerful words. And they set up a definite order of priority. Our loyalty to God and those who follow him is to be greater than it is to our biological or chosen family. That’s not to say that family isn’t important, of course. And it’s not to say that we don’t have a special responsibility to care for our family, because we do. But it is to say that God’s family, the Church and those who do God’s will, is more important.
This runs against our natural grain on many levels. We think about our responsibility for those who brought us into the world and those whom we brought in. Yes, there is responsibility. But what about those who sustain us in the world, and those we are called to sustain? Likewise we think about our great love for our family, and the importance of their love for us. But why should such love be kept within families? There are many ways of looking at this question, but the teaching of Jesus is clear.
Hard teachings like this move us to ask “why?” While no explanation is given directly in this text, the answer seems clear when thought about in light of the rest of scripture. We know that God loves all of his creation and wants everyone to be saved. That this might happen, God would have us all care for one another as family. The more we highlight our divisions, such as our groupings into families, the less we are reminded of our need to care for all.
Human history is full of examples where family has fought against family, and clan against clan. The pride we take in our own family often leads to competition, hard feelings and even battle. “My dad can beat up your dad,” might be the talk of little children, but the sentiments are often there well beyond that.
When the early church fathers commented on this text, they often centered their remarks on Mary. Mary was certainly blessed to bear the Christ-child, yes. But the far greater blessing was that she knew him as Savior and Lord. The faith connection is much more important than any heredity.
This teaching of Jesus is challenging indeed. And it is needed. It is not to suggest, however, that families are not important. In our day especially, when the traditional family is seen by many as unnecessary and outdated, and that any form of family will do, it’s important that we uphold the importance of marriage and family as God has designed them.
The actions of Jesus’ family in today’s text moved him to speak about priorities. However, doesn’t the story also speak to some of the sadness in families? Not only does Jesus’ family misunderstand him, but in the last scene we literally see them standing “outside” of Jesus’ circle. There is a wall between Jesus and his family—literally and figuratively.
Most of us know the pain of family divisions such as these. Sometimes we’re the one on the outside trying to find acceptance from these people who mean so much to us. Sometimes we look on helplessly as another family member isolates himself or herself from the rest. When things aren’t right with our family we hurt. The emotions we feel about our family run deep, whether we realize it or not.
Jesus came to heal these hurts. He came to forgive the sins we’ve committed that caused hurt to others. He came to teach us how to extend forgiveness to those who have hurt us. He came to fill our hearts with His Holy Spirit of joy, truth, love and peace. He came to bring us into His family—where we have a home, where we belong, where we are safe and where we have people around us who care.
Christ Jesus restores us into the family of God. He made this possible through a great intervention–his self-giving—when he went to the cross to pay for our sins.
Jesus foreshadows that intervention through an illustration in today’s text. “No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his possessions unless he first binds the strong man.” Jesus is comparing himself, of all things, to a thief. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised—he also once said he would come again “as a thief in the night.” The point here is that people possessed by the devil—the strong man—will be freed by the one who is both willing to pursue them, and able to bind that strong man. They will be saved by Jesus who casts out evil in all of its forms.
Our part in this is to believe. To not stand outside when Jesus is teaching and healing, but to go in and join him. To reject Jesus as Savior is to sin against the Holy Spirit, the one unforgiveable sin, as Jesus explains in this text.
Christ Jesus came to restore us into the family of God. We’re told in the book of Acts that Jesus’ family was eventually re-united together in faith. There is great blessing in being a part of this family of God. For the past two years my brother and his family have been in the Washington area and close enough were we can spend a lot of time together. We attend each other’s family birthday parties and get together for holidays. Just this past week Dan was a delegate from his church at the same Convention I attended. Most of you have heard me say many times how much I enjoy having family in the area. But it occurs to me as I think about this how happy I was for the previous 11 years here without any family in the area. That’s because you, the church, have been my family. God has provided for us richly through our relationships with one another. How good it is to be a part of a large and caring family dedicated to following the teachings of Christ. May God bless our church family and our individual families, that we be places where Christ dwells.