March 13, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 3:20-21.
He came home. Again [the] crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Here we have the beginning of the scene, which is completed in verses 31-35 when Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and [my] brothers?” In between the scribes accused him of being possessed by Beelzebul.
Mark makes it very clear that Jesus had left his blood family and formed a new family comprised of outsiders — people unknown and probably mistrusted by his immediate family. Jesus embodied what he proclaimed — that a son must abandon his father and so on.
His family was alarmed. Jesus was taking much risk by challenging the social mores, Jewish authorities, and even the entrenched ruling powers. He was turning everything upside down, putting himself in danger of imprisonment, harassment, and possibly death. He had gathered about himself a tax collector, a zealot, fishermen, and others from the lower rungs of society. He had given up respectable work as a carpenter and the familiarity of his hometown. What in the world was he thinking, doing? This wasn’t the way they had envisioned family life. So, they resolved to forcibly bring him to his senses.
Our families can be both sources of encouragement and constraint. Often they are unwitting jailers, believing that they have a claim on us. However, God has created each us as unique persons with particular gifts to be used in bringing about His kingdom. Sometimes we forget that as parents. We want to protect them from bad influences and the buffets that life inevitably brings. We want to shelter them, to bring them up in the faith, to associate with the “right” people, to encourage them to pursue esteemed careers, to marry “well,” to bear grandchildren for us.
Many of us choose to follow these family scripts. Jesus did not; he listened to his Father in heaven direct him on a different path. When he was clear about his mission, he made a decided, clean break with his former life and family. He set out on his own with firm resolve and would not be dissuaded by his family and friends.
It takes a lot to do something like that and few of us do especially in choosing to devote ourselves to God’s work. It’s too risky, too uncomfortable, too difficult to resist the pressures from family and friends, from society in general. We typically fall in line as expected. Usually, this all happens unconsciously, without intent. Life simply unfolds and we find our place in it, striving for success, for happiness. At least, that’s the way it has been for me.
There’s nothing really wrong with that. We can obviously be good and decent people in living our lives as expected. But Jesus seems to consistently and insistently call us to radically change our lives, to change our definitions of success and happiness. He wants us to do everything we can now to follow God’s will, to bring His kingdom into being now. He doesn’t want us to wait to enjoy it in heaven. Our lives are precious and short. Life is not just a plodding journey on the way to heaven. Our lives are to be used to change life, to infuse life with love and compassion and justice, just as Jesus did. We are created to be God’s instruments, to be His hands and voice and heart.
If we do that, our families and friends may call us crazy. They may try to restrain us and warn us of the risks. They may even cut us off for being too religious, too fanatical, too impractical and irresponsible. What do we get if we stick to our guns and follow God’s will? Nothing but the sweet assurance of God’s love and delight. That’s freely available to everyone, but those who are Jesus’ intentional disciples experience those moments frequently and are led forward to even greater service to all God’s children. God’s indwelling spirit swells and we grow closer and closer to God in the companionship of Jesus. At least that’s how I imagine it. For now, I’m still trying to reorient my life according to His will.