Genesis 3:8-15 † Psalm 130 † 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 † Mark 2:20-35
I wanted to redeem Jesus’ family. I wanted things to be better in the end. I wanted Jesus’ dilemma to end like the version of Heinz’s dilemma in which they end up on the beach, with her made well from the medicine she needed, and maybe with a fairer health system in place that values people over profit. I wanted the garden before the serpent shows up and everyone starts blaming everyone else for their choices. So I went to the end of Mark where we find two Marys. But, as much as I’d like to tell you Jesus’ mother shows up at the foot of the cross to be entrusted to John or at the empty tomb to wonder where they’ve laid him, I cannot. In Mark there is no happily-ever-after with his family.
One writer puts it graciously, suggesting Mark, unlike the other gospels, did not seem to know of any positive traditions about the family of Jesus.[i]
This is the earliest gospel. It is written closest in time to the conflict and heartbreak we suspect these followers of the reformer/disrupter Jesus experienced as he created something new from a religious tradition that had become misshapen and corrupt.
We know enough about broken families and broken relationships these days and in this political climate to have learned that sometimes the best move is to separate ourselves from what has become abusive or corrosive—even among our closest families. Sometimes we must separate for our well-being and even our survival, even as we try to hold onto our memory that we belong together, that we are one family.
This is not ideal, but it may be the best choice we have in the moment, and perhaps the only one that offers the possibility of another chapter that finds us with our relationships restored. We cling to those words of comfort and hope from 2 Corinthians: “So we do not lose heart…we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen.” We do not lose heart because the one who raised Jesus will raise us. We do not lose heart because “grace” extends “to more and more people…to the glory of God.”[ii] We do not lose heart because of this Spirit.
We do have other scriptures that speak to this hope. We do have a 3000-year history of Jewish families who have shown remarkable tenacity for sustaining identity and witness. We have the other gospels whose stories of Mary lift her up as an icon of faith and deep commitment, as a mother who follows this prophet and reformer and savior who serves God’s people and challenges an institution or privileged authorities.
And we also have here a gospel that is, quite simply, exhausting. It just doesn’t slow down. We're only in the third chapter of Mark now, but a quick read of those first chapters yields the following scenes: Jesus has gone from his hometown out to the wilderness, he’s baptized, he’s tempted, then he goes to Galilee, then to the sea to Capernaum, then to a house, then to a deserted place, and back out to the towns of Galilee. Now that’s just in chapter one. Then Jesus goes back to Capernaum and home, and then to the sea, and then to Levi's house, then through the grain fields and to the synagogue, and then back to the sea before heading up the mountain where he gathers those twelve apostles around him. And then, finally, he comes home.
His followers are in tow, and so are his enemies, so that the scene—mind you, we are only in chapter 3—is now a sea of chaos and conflict. By this point we already know that the religious leaders have it out for him. Whatever curiosity they had has been replaced with a sense of clear and present danger that this one is going to take what they are not willing to give up. So they are looking for evidence to indict him.
Perhaps we can imagine Mary, the distressed mother, trying to maintain her connection with her son: “Let’s take him home, get some food in him and he’ll be better.” Of course, before we are too critical of her or the siblings, we might ask why the father is missing in action.
No one enjoys this kind of change. The disruption is sometimes more than we can bear. And the pain is so easily manipulated by the powers that be: This Jesus. He’s the problem. Insulting the Sabbath, imagining himself above it. And how do we know they are not right? Isn’t that a challenge we face today with accusations free of facts flying everywhere?
But Jesus looks deeper to the heart of the law. It is for the people, for our well-being, for our relationship with God and with each other. And when the rules are bent to privilege a few, this is when it is truly broken. That’s the point of Jesus’ language about blasphemy. The real sin is claiming to have God in your pocket when you’re only interested in enriching yourself. The real sin is losing empathy, neglecting your deep connection to one another.
And now the tables are turned. The hypocrisy of these leaders is exposed. Evil is seen for what it is, and so is goodness. But not everyone is convinced, of course. If anything, the divides are deeper. The scene ends with the Pharisees committing the very sin of which they accuse Jesus as they find themselves on the Sabbath plotting how to take life rather than how to save it. This too is the way it goes with the gospel.
Conflict, division, despair even.
Let’s not forget forgiveness. That’s how Jesus sets it all up. All sins are forgiven, he reminds us. Justice is done, but grace is the final word with this God.
Grace is not theory, of course. Neither do we love in theory. We can talk all we want—and we do a lot—about the constant drumbeat of our Christian faith to the love of self and neighbor. We belong together. We are created to love. We know this in theory, but, of course we also know that knowing what to do and doing it are not the same thing. The trick, the challenge is in the doing. The loving is in the doing. Love is found in the moment.
I was thinking about that this week as I was thinking about a troublesome neighbor. Truth be told, he strikes me as kind of a jerk. Of course, who’s to say I don’t strike him the same way. And it is the small things, of course. Lately he’s been leaving his sprinklers running about six hours a day. This started the day after I went over to his house to kindly ask him if he could adjust his other sprinklers so they wouldn’t spray so far onto our driveway.
Now, it was probably coincidental, but, like I say, it’s the little things that add up.
So I was mowing this week. I had to put a bucket over one of his sprinklers for a few minutes just to mow one section of the lawn. He was not home. And I trimmed some of his limbs that were getting close to our roof. This is important because it was previous trees he had there that led to a racoon and then a possum finding their way into our attic.
Anyway, let’s just say I was stewing. And I was stewing about my stewing. Here I am mowing the very comfortable yard of my very comfortable home on a beautiful day while we are dealing with a homelessness crisis in our region and beyond, and while the news was still fresh of the hundreds dead in Nicaragua, buried by the eruption of the volcano Momotombo, and we’re looking forward to a visit to our NPH friends in Honduras. Political troubles. A spike in suicides and despair. Children cruelly separated from their parents who are seeking sanctuary at our borders. And we learned this week it’s happening in Seattle.
And I had, what I am somewhat embarrassed to note is a rather obvious epiphany that I might try kindness as an approach with my neighbor. There’s a thought!
So I did—I wrote a note to him about the trimmed trees, something he might notice—doing unto him what I’d like to be done to me. I haven’t heard from him. But, you know, I don’t need to. Just doing a small kindness, being my better self, I already felt better, more grounded, more aware of the big stuff and inclined toward it.
I think that’s how we find our new family, and maybe recover our own—no matter how set against us and against goodness, and against our most fragile neighbors the world might be. I think that’s how we begin to see the world change, as the change begins with us, and with each courageous or not-so-courageous act of reaching out, of kindness, of truth-telling, of commitment. For some reason the Spirit of Jesus seems to be in the mix, and change becomes all the more possible.
[i] This according to the June 10, 2018 UCC Sermon Seeds blog, citing, Gérald Caron Mark in the Lectionary. Retrieved on June 8, 2018 from http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_june_10_2018.
[ii] Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:13-18.
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