Monday, September 8, 2008

The Gospel of Mark Challenge: Reflection Two -- "Who Are My Mother and My Brothers?"

For the introduction to the Gospel of Mark Challenge, click here.

In the latter part of the third chapter of The Gospel of Mark we learn that Jesus’ family is somewhat worried about what he has been up to. When he returns home (Mark 3:21), his family tries to restrain him because people were accusing him of being out of his mind. A Scribe had even come down from Jerusalem and accused Jesus of being possessed. In 3:31, with his mother and brothers (and possibly his sisters, depending on the manuscript evidence) standing outside, he shrugs off their concern for him. In fact, Jesus seems to shrug off his family of origin entirely and insists that those amongst him (his disciples, the ones who do the will of God) are actually his true family.

As a parent I am sympathetic to his poor mother. On the one hand, she must have seen what he was doing and been wonderfully proud and deeply moved, and yet, she certainly would have feared for both his safety and his reputation. But if trust is a theme emerging in this gospel, then members of his family were without trust. They are sharply contrasted to the fishermen who laid down their nets and left their former lives to follow him. Where Simon and Andrew, James and John, and all the others followed him (their continued misunderstanding of his mission notwithstanding), his family tried to restrain him and hold him back.

How easy it is to hold on to what we know best. How much simpler the world seems if the life never changes. We cannot keep our children from growing up any less than we can face the reality that each are growing older every day. Time does indeed flow like an “ever rolling stream.” I suppose we instinctively oppose change because it reminds us that we will inevitably have to let go of things. Whenever I officiate at the funeral of someone who is my parents’ age, I must face the reality that the day will come when I will need to say goodbye to them. Whenever I speak with friends and colleagues who have children who are leaving home (and facing both exciting and challenging times with their near-adult offspring) I must face the reality that my children will grow and leave me before I realize that their childhood has slipped away. I can understand his family’s reaction because change for one member of a family system means change for the rest.

However, healthy families systems are systems that can embrace change and live into the uncertainty and mystery of change. I think that this is what Jesus was getting at when he said to his disciples “You are my mother and brother and sisters.” They became his family because they were able to embrace change with all its ambiguity and uncertainty. They were able to take risks, make mistakes, and even get it wrong. They were able to do these things because they knew God was with them.

But lest we think that Jesus wrote off his birth family, consider this: Mary became an important figure in the Early Church, the mother of a new family, nascent Christianity, after the death of her son. Consider this: Jesus’ brother James became the leader of the Jerusalem Church and even suffered death by stoning for his faith. Consider this: According to Eusebius, the historian of the Early Church, his cousins became great leaders in the early church and witnesses to the faith.

Like the family of Jesus, it may be difficult for us to trust. Like them, we may wish to cling to a childhood image of Jesus that involves no risk to us, but neither does it challenge us to grow. But like them, we too may be transformed by God’s grace. Like them, we may cast off the fears that enslave us. Like them, we can change. Like them, we may become incorporated into a new, more inclusive family, in which we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and children of the living God. May we always seek to do his will.

Text copyright 2008, by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

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