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.]

The Hardest Commandment

I'd like to see you love MY neighborMatthew 5:43-48

You’ll recall the old law that says, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say love your enemy, wish the best for those who persecute you. That’s what marks you as God’s children.

The sun comes up every day for good and bad alike. And rain gets everyone wet, righteous or wicked.

If you love only those who love you, so what? Any crooked politician can do that. And if you say hello only to the people you already know and like, that’s totally unremarkable. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry does that.

Stand out! And you will show people how limitless God’s love for everyone is really is.

Lets be clear. There isn’t a law in the Hebrew scriptures that says, “Hate your enemy.” Jesus is clearly referring to Leviticus 19:17-18, which says:

You shall not bear hatred in your heart for your family. You call your neighbor out when you see something wrong, but you’re not to take revenge or hold a grudge. Rather you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

But just because it’s not what the law says, doesn’t mean people won’t interpret it that way. Keeping that kind of law isn’t hard at all. It’s what comes naturally, quid pro quo, all of that. A lot of people like that kind of easy law. But, as is sometimes said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves everyone blind and toothless.

What Jesus is asking is much harder. In fact, this is the hardest commandment: Love your enemy. Because, in fact, most of the time when we have enemies, those enemies are are our neighbors. Consider: why is it that it’s often much easier to give $20 to a charity helping people somewhere half way around the globe (victims of earthquakes and famines, for example), but so much harder to help people just across town when the mill shuts down?

The people we are most likely to be at odds with are the people we interact with on a regular basis, our neighbors (if we even know who they are) and our families. Thus, Leviticus. It starts with not holding grudges against those who are closest to you. And not taking revenge on those who have hurt you, who are also more likely to be people nearby. Notice that neither Jesus nor Leviticus says you should be a doormat. “Call your neighbor out.” But that’s it. After that, they’re still your neighbor. Let it go.

Granted: letting go, not holding grudges, not harboring resentment – it’s not easy. Then again, doing something truly remarkable is always hard.

[Bonus observation: If you love only those who love you, so what? Any crooked politician can do that. Herein lies Jesus’ ticket for anyone who wants to be a good politician – and it just might win elections, too. So much for pandering to the religious right (or left).]