Sunday 6 June 2021

Trinity 1

Sunday 6 June 2021
 Mark 3:20-35
Rev David Strannack

Jesus was very popular with the ordinary people: wherever he went crowds followed him. He went into a house and the crowd that followed was so large that Jesus and his disciples did not even have time to eat.
It was not the first time this had happened and his family was worried for him. They loved him and wanted to protect him. They came to where he was because people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.'
Jesus had left the security of Nazareth for a life on the road. His work as a carpenter in Nazareth must have provided Jesus with a good way of life. He would have his family around him; there would be love and care. His family thought it was foolish to leave this safe life to become a wandering preacher who did not have time to eat. Not only did Jesus leave his security behind; he left the safety of a peaceful life. He
was now running into trouble with the religious leaders. Very soon, if not already, Jesus’ life would be in danger. He would be safer at home in Nazareth.

He wanted to lead people and show them a better way of life. But the people he gathered around him were neither learned nor great strong characters. He chose fishermen, a tax collector and a freedom fighter to be part of his team. He risked society laughing at him. Out of love, his family wanted to take him home. But Jesus could not go with them. He would rather risk his life for us. He would leave safety and security behind and go on the road towards the cross. While his family loved him, there was another group that was out to condemn him. The Scribes had followed from Jerusalem, not because they believed or loved him but because they wanted to find fault. There are always some people sdaly who delight in finding fault. These Scribes could not deny that Jesus healed people: they actually saw it happen. So they tried to frighten people away from Jesus by saying he was in league with Beelzebub. In other words they were suggesting that Jesus worked for Satan, the ruler of demons.

Jesus pointed out how wicked and illogical it was to say this. Evil would not fight evil (no, evil fights goodness). To call good evil is wicked and perverts life. Jesus accepted that life is a struggle between good and evil, and there is no doubt on which side he stood. Jesus regarded healing as a defeat of evil. He wanted people to be whole and healthy. Jesus cared for the whole person - body, mind and spirit - and not just part of them. He confronted the Scribes and this was a great risk, but he was determined to stand against evil. By their attitude, the Scribes were becoming more and more hostile to Jesus.And so the family of Jesus turned up intent on rescuing him. They wanted him to return to the warmth and safety of home life.

Today Families in the Western world don't imagine that their children will all live in the same neighbourhood. They have their lives to live; they have to be where their jobs, or their studying, or their new relationships, will take them. For Westerners, then, Jesus' words, though perhaps mildly shocking, don't mean that much. As we grow up we develop a circle of friends who know us much better, who spend much more time with us, than our parents and siblings. We regard that as normal. But in Jesus' world it was scandalous - as it still is in some societies today. The family bond was tight and long-lasting. As with many non-Western cultures today, it was normal for children to live close to their parents, maybe even in the same house. The family unit would often be a business unit as well, sharing everything in common. At times family control can become oppressive, or even dangerous. What's more, for Jews at the time of Jesus the close family bond was seen as part of the God-given fabric of thinking and living. Loyalty to the family was the local and specific outworking of loyalty to Israel as the people of God. If you were to break that link, you would have undermined a major pillar in the way Jews in the first century (and in the twentieth, come to that) think and feel about the world and themselves.

But as St Mark has already shown us, Jesus was quite capable of challenging the symbols that lay at the heart of the Jewish sense of identity. Family solidarity stood alongside Sabbath observance, the food laws, and other signs of Jewish identity. It was considered as being loyal to the ancestral heritage, and thereby to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So Mary brought the rest of the family down to Capernaum from Nazareth to find him and take him away and to stop him behaving in such an outrageous fashion, bringing dishonour to the family name. They thought he was mad (see verse 21). But Jesus slices through the whole traditional structure in one clean cut. He has a different vocation, a different mission, and it involves breaking those hallowed family ties. God in Jesus is doing the unthinkable: he is starting a new family, a new holy people, and is doing so without regard for ordinary human family bonds. How easy it is for any of us to slide back again into a sense of belonging, of group identity, that comes from something other than loyalty to Jesus. We so easily substitute longstanding friendship, membership in the same group, tribe, family, club, party, social class or whatever it may be. But the call to be ‘around’ Jesus, to listen to him, even if ‘those outside’ think us crazy, is what matters. The church in every generation, and in every place, needs to remember this and act on it. Mark's call to his readers then and now is to stick with
Jesus whatever the cost.

This new ‘family’ that Jesus was creating is none other than the Kingdom of Heaven that he is bringing to earth. With the incarnation of Jesus comes the incarnation of his Kingdom – a new family is being created and we and all humanity are invited to be part of that new family. Through Jesus we are able to discover what membership of God’s family really means and that family is an inclusive family, a world-wide
family of those who put their faith in him. When a lawyer, in questioning, Jesus asked him: ‘Who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied with the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10. 25…) What was most significant for the lawyer and his fellow Jews was that traditionally they only regarded fellow Jews as ‘neighbours’. They would have as little to do with all non-Jews, the Gentiles, as possible. They would avoid them at all costs and regard them as unclean; they wanted to exclude them from their society. But in his teaching Jesus shows that God loves every human being. All are welcome into his family. That is why, in the early days of the Christian Church, they began to share the Good News with other peoples and other nations. Jews and Gentiles alike were all welcome into God’s family.

So what does it mean for us today? There are many significant examples for us to consider but I choose just two. We have heard so much about the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign and the importance of that movement should touch all our hearts and consciences. Also through the Covid pandemic we are learning the importance of nations working together and the need to support others. Our duty is not merely to look after our own people but to have concern and compassion especially for the poorer and less developed nations of the world. For instance is it right that we in this nation should hold on to more of the Covid
vaccine than we can possibly need while even health workers in Africa who have at present little chance of a vaccine are risking their lives to care for victims of the pandemic. Are we in the richer nation content to forget who is our ‘neighbour’ and pass by on the other side? As a world community, as a world family of nations we have a Christ-like duty to care and to share.

And this should be our same attitude toward all people and towards our whole family of nations. All people are created in the image of God and all are loved by God every bit as much as he loves each of us. Let us therefore cherish all human beings, those we see day by day as well as those in distant lands, and see them as fellow children of God, as members with us of God’s family. Amen