Family Is More than Blood

Family line-upMark 3:20-21, 31-35

Jesus went home, where a crowd gathered before they could even finish dinner. When his family heard about it, they came to put a stop to him. He’s gone mad, they said.

So his mother and brothers came and waited outside, sending a message in calling him. All kinds of people were sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are calling for you.” But he said, “Who are my mother and brothers?” Then looking at all those sitting around him, he said, “Here we are! Whoever does the work of God – they are brothers and sisters and mothers to me.

For some (including Jesus), one of the greatest barriers to doing what you’re called to do is the people who are closest to you. Your family.

You want to be an artist, but your parents want you to be a doctor. You want to be an actor, but your parents want you to be a lawyer. You want to go on a diet, but your family sits around all evening eating potato chips and ice cream. You want to go back to school, but your family wants you to stay home and make dinner. You want to run for office, but your family thinks you’re crazy.

Blessed are those whose family supports their hopes and dreams. For the rest, take a page from Jesus’ book:

Do what you’re called to do anyway, and surround yourself with other people who believe in you and what you’re doing – a new family – who will support you in what you’re doing. A crowd of people sitting around you does two things:

  1. It gives you the support and affirmation you need to do what you’ve got to do to be you, and
  2. It gives you a little insulation when your kin are trying to shut you down (the Greek kratasai is literally, “to arrest, to detain”).

In a nutshell: surround yourself with people who believe in you, whether or not they happen to be kin.

[Please note: I’m not advocating going off and getting a divorce or running away or completely cutting off your relatives whenever you have disagreement. That’s not what Jesus is doing here. It’s implied that when his family gets with the program, they’ll be his family. Ultimately, the goal with families, too, is reconciliation. But sometimes to get there a little distance and a little cushion from those who have the greatest self-interest in conforming you to what they need is a good thing.]

Jesus Takes (and Gives) a Bar Exam

exam questionMatthew 22:34-46

The legalists huddled up when they heard that Jesus had confounded the traditionalists. Then one of them, a lawyer, tried to give him a bar exam starting with the question: Which commandment in the law is the greatest?

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,’ is the first, greatest commandment. And there’s another wording of the commandment says the same thing: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Everything else in the law, and everything the truth-tellers have said, is a footnote.”

Then, while they were still gathered there, Jesus asked them a question: Whose protégé do you think will save the world?

“Our nation’s Savior is the CEO of the David Company,” they said.

“Then how is it,” Jesus asked, “that David, Sr. said, as if it were the wisdom of God:

God said to my boss,
Stick with me
And I’ll take care of your competitors.

“What kind of savior takes orders from someone else’s boss?”

No one was able to answer this question. And after that, nobody had the gall to ask him anything else.

It’s tempting to separate this passage into two parts:

  1. The lawyer’s question and Jesus’ answer, and
  2. Jesus’ question that’s impossible to answer.

It’s tempting to drop the second part (too confusing), and hang onto the first (love, love, love).

But the lectionary is right to keep the two together in the same reading. Because the answer to part 2 is the same as the answer to the question in part 1. And the lawyer (and many Christians along with him) failed his own bar exam.

What kind of savior takes orders from someone else’s boss?

  • The savior who loves God with everything she’s got.

Which is the same as:

  • the savior who loves his neighbor as himself.

And, Jesus’ question prompts the lawyer (and us) to connect the dots and see that this is also the same as:

  • the one who makes the rules (the boss, the king, the president, the CEO, the Session, the Board of Trustees, the Deacons, and the Pharisees) making the rules so that they take into consideration the well-being even of the competition. (“Oh… that kind of take care of!”)

(Bonus: Until I put your enemies under your feet indicates the consummation of the divine project in which “all things are reconciled” to God. While the traditional interpretation has taken this to mean that the enemies are vanquished, the gospel’s understanding – Jesus’ re-appropriation of the tradition – is that all things are made whole and brought into their proper place. They are not squashed; they are made friends. It’s this misunderstanding of the psalm that stymied the lawyer, the Pharisees, and many others.)

What is the greatest commandment then? As far as Jesus is concerned, it’s to participate in a community where, whoever you are in whatever position, everyone is taken care of. And that means everyone.

Can’t Have One Without the Other

Caracas, Venezuela
Caracas, Venezuela. Photo via Wild Fox Zen

Matthew 9:18-25

While Jesus was teaching them, the governor came and knelt before him. He said, “My daughter died. But if you touch her, she will live again.” So Jesus and his followers started off to go with the governor.

But as they went, a woman who had been suffering from 12 years of constant vaginal bleeding came up behind him and caught by the sleeve. She thought, “If I can only grasp him for a moment, I’ll be healed.”

Jesus turned around. And when he saw her he said to her, “Take heart, daughter of God! Your faith has healed you.” And she was healed. Permanently.

When Jesus entered the governor’s mansion, there were all kinds of people from the funeral home, and a crowd of reporters. He told them all, “Get out. She’s not dead. Just sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But after they’d all gone away, Jesus went in and touched her hand, and the little girl woke up. That night it was on the news at six and eleven.

Notice that there are two stories here. One of them is nested completely within the other. On the outside is the governor and the miraculous healing/raising/awakening of his daughter. But on the inside is the story of a woman whose suffering had gone unnoticed and untreated for 12 years. The one everyone is concerned about cannot be healed until the other nobody cares about is healed. The one cannot who is recognized as a beloved daughter cannot live until the other is also recognized as a beloved daughter.

The upshot: those who have it all can’t really live, nor can they be in close relationship, unless those who have been forgotten are also embraced as family and made whole.

Put that on the news at six and eleven.

You Are Essential

Philippians 2:1-4

So then, if Jesus encourages you, if love comforts you, if you would share a greater purpose, if you yearn for community, then I’d rejoice to see you work through your differences, love one another, stick together, and find points of agreement. Don’t do things just to promote yourself; try to give someone else a lift. And, among you, it’s not “every man for himself,” rather seek the common good.

Two thoughts.

First, a movement isn’t about getting people to march in lock-step, or to encourage group-think, as translations of these verses often imply. Rather it’s about a community that commits to care about each other, and then pull in the same direction. And the basis for this kind of commitment and effort is never found in coercion, guilt, fear, or some robotic sense of duty. It comes from the positive primal human needs for affirmation, love, purpose, and connection.

Second, self-promotion never works for long. People will see through those motives, even as they go along with you for a while. Loyalty never comes from giving people a good deal; a good deal is the minimum expectation. Loyalty is earned by giving people gifts with no strings attached. But as soon as you give with the intention of earning their loyalty, that’s a huge string. The only way through the paradox is simply to do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do. If you don’t give yourself to the world, the world will miss you.