Several summers ago while on vacation, I purchased a small white wooden sign from a gift shop that read, "Friends welcome, relatives by appointment only." That sign arrested my attention while also stating an oft-unspoken truth. Friends are sometimes easier to deal with than family.
Jesus says as much near the end of our passage today. His actions in this brisk-paced text have stirred the pot. He is harassed by the rumor of the crowd, demonized by the ideology of the scribes, and annoyed by the pressure of family. Here is evidence that no good deed of ministry goes unpunished. What's wrong with healing and casting out demons? Instead of order, there seems to be chaos. It seems that there are systems with a vested interest in unwellness.
Yet, through all of this, Jesus remains on point, on mission and on message. Like a Timex, he takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Thomas Long is quoted by Kate Huey in Sermon Seeds as saying, "Jesus just moves right along." In this chaos-paced account of Mark, Jesus moves right along. I would add that Jesus moves right along. Let us be clear, "Right doesn't wrong anybody." He asks a few annoyed churchfolk, "Is it right to heal or just let a man with a withered hand suffer?" Jesus moves right along. His right, however, seems wrong to his very vocal critics. Because he is changing lives, he is deemed out of his mind. Because he is casting out demons, he must be Satan himself. He's even run afoul of his own family. What do you do when your good is called bad? How do you manage to press on to the higher calling when the Twitter feeds of your time mock and malign everything you do? Jesus came to love, heal, and forgive. And in this text Jesus moves right along.
William Cullen Bryant yet speaks to us, "Truth, crushed to the earth, shall rise again." Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. Even Mother Teresa said, "Lord, I know you won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish you didn't trust me so much." All of these voices seem to come in chorus with the cause of truth and righteousness. Not truth espoused in creeds and declarations, but truth that makes footprints in the lives of people whose backs are against the wall. Howard Thurman would describe this passage in a book entitled, Jesus and the Disinherited. We now celebrate those whose truths formerly troubled us, and whose rights felt wrong to us. Now that they are conveniently dead and buried and out of sight, we now love to hear, and honor, and celebrate them posthumously.
Truth-tellers make us uncomfortable. Prophets yet disturb our creeds, customs, and stubborn particularities. It is no wonder the Apostle Paul said to not get weary in good doing. Such truth and good doing is not always appreciated. We cannot handle it. It is inconvenient truth! In order to tame it, we malign it, or we seek to kill its messenger. Jesus was well aware that prophets were not without honor except in their own country. Verse 20 concurs when it merely says (it set us up), "he went home." Home is where the rumor was out that he had lost his mind. Home was where his family wanted to restrain him. Home is where the scribes accused him of being Beelzebub, a demon casting out demons. Home was where he confronted that demonization asking why Satan would cast out Satan. Mark 6 will tell us that it was at Jesus' home that the hometown people took offense at him. And it was at home that he could do no miracles there because of their unbelief. Not that he could not do miracles. Their unbelief caused them not to hear and see the miracles. It seems that Jesus was home alone while in the midst of a sea of need. His presence drew the needy and pressing multitudes. His presence exposed the inefficacy of the government and religious authorities of that day.
To make matters worse, Jesus, at the end of this passage makes a pretty hard saying regarding his family. Yet, it is an even larger statement to the divided house of humanity then and now. We could get stuck there, but can we handle its truth? It is not so much an attack on family as it is a truth about the human family. Biology does not necessarily beget theology. There is an old adage which declares that blood is thicker than water. It suggests that family is above reproach. Not so, says Jesus in this text. A matriarch in my own family believed that our family name was so sacrosanct, that we could do no wrong. All of us are challenged by family. And of all the things that we can pick and choose, we cannot pick and choose family.
In an age of partisan politics, nepotism, and denominational pandering to power, Jesus serves sure and certain notice to keep the faith! We live in times when patronage is more important than piety. We live in times when preaching is muzzled by preference of hearers. We live in times when ministry makes some people mad. Mark 3 seems to mirror our times. We would do well to heed its call. We would do even more to take on its cause. What is that cause?
Eugene Peterson in The Message Bible renders verse 25, "Obedience is thicker than blood." Although his relatives are outside calling, he seems to pay them no mind. When it comes to faithfulness, they are outside while others are inside and around Jesus. Faith is an inside job. Could that be why Paul said, "Let this mind be in you which is also in Christ Jesus. In Christ Jesus is power to heal. In Christ Jesus is power to forgive. In Jesus is the power and purpose of God.
Finally, someone has come along who is able to change lives in his hometown and he's under appreciated. He has straightened out a withered hand. He was pressed on each side because of what he was doing. Nothing or nobody had healed and changed lives like that before, but this is what happens when Jesus comes home. He has called twelve spokesmen to carry this message of hope and healing. People are singing his praises. A hymn writer writes, "What a wonderful change has been wrought in my life since Jesus came into my heart." Another one writes, "Jesus is the answer for the world today. Above him there's no other, Jesus is the way." Even Lionel Richie sang, "Jesus is love I know." Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations recorded, "He is a friend of mine." Bill and Gloria Gaither declare, "Jesus is the center of my joy." Someone else wrote from my neck of the woods, "There's a stranger in town and he's healing."
Jesus still looks for obedience. He knows obedience when he sees it. He is the embodiment of obedience. Did not his family remember him saying when they lost him after the Passover, "I must be about my father's business?" Did not Mary remember the Gabriel conversation before he was born? Did she not remember saying to the Lord, "Let it be with me according to your will"? Jesus is on divine assignment of Make Lives Matter. When Jesus has come into your life, it does not matter who else does not understand! It is not important who has a problem with it. Because Jesus moves right along and makes lives matter. Idi Amin was quoted as saying while he executed Christians almost daily, "Every time I kill one, they keep popping up!" They keep popping up because of obedience.
Yet, the matter of the family here wrinkles our brows. Family is the biological unit out of which we come. Tom Troeger, in Feasting on the Gospels, suggests that depending on the kind of family from which we come, we might side with Jesus here. In other words, if in your faith life you come from a family that is hostile to your growing faith, you will resonate with Jesus' saying. As a pastor, I have witnessed new converts get waylaid by family hostile to faith. Yet, I have also seen faithful families encourage and plant seeds of faith in a husband, a wife, or a child who just didn't get it. Eugene Peterson in The Message translation upends that adage, "Blood is thicker than water," while echoing 1 Samuel 15:22, "Obedience is better than sacrifice." He writes, "Obedience is thicker than blood." In other words, praxis trumps progeny: believing is better than being kinfolk. Kinfolk are not always kind folk, but when kinfolk are kindred in Christ, the blood then works. Obedience is the rub of this text. We may get sidetracked by who it is, but the bottom line is what it is. And that is obedience!
So, what do we make of this text? What do we leave here with? The first point I would leave with us today is that...
Obedience to God Matters
We hear Jesus make a bold claim about faith that may hurt our ears and sounding anti-family. However, Jesus recognizes the power of connection when there is faith in the family. Obedience to God Matters. Secondly...
Obedience Cultivates Frankness
Although my earthly father did not understand when I accepted the call to ministry and uprooted from Memphis to Chicago, he said to me, "Son, this must be the Lord's work in your life for you to give up all of what you have done here to go to seminary and make your home in Chicago." But I believe that when Christ is the focus, faith rules beyond family. When Christ is not the focus, faith seems to ruin appearances. Family might not be able to handle what others call crazy. I am grateful that my father released us believing God and the frankness of my testimony. You see, obedience to God matters and obedience cultivates frankness. Why? Because an experience of God gives one the language that is testimony. If there is no experience, there is no language, and there is no testimony.
Obedience Creates Fidelity
I'm reminded of a man in Washington, DC, who told me while sitting, listening to Richard Smallwood in concert. He kept elbowing me and annoying me somewhat, but he said, "Sir, my wife has been a member of this church 20 years and I've been a member of this church 6 years." I said, "Great!" He said, "You don't understand. I watched my wife attend church for 20 years before finally deciding to follow her one Sunday to the church. When I got there, I joined the church. You see, I've been here years now and I'm a Sunday School teacher." I said, "What happened?" He said, "I watched her continue to be the good wife that she was. She cooked for me, she kept the clothes ironed and pressed, she never called me a back slider, she never called me a sinner, but she kept loving me with the love of the Christ she sang about in her songs." Some others would have called this couple unequally yoked. She was a believer and he was not. But he believed that she believed, even though he didn't believe yet. But he observed her obedience for 20 years. She experienced her belief by how she treated him. She loved him to Christ unconditionally. I realize that this is not always the case, but this man confessed to me. She never stopped loving and living with her husband and he felt that. She lived the life she sang about in her songs. That loved stretched out her husband's hand. Finally...
Obedience Is Forgiveness
Jesus declares that people will be forgiven in the midst of the chaos in this passage. When you have been forgiven, you behave as if you are forgiven. I believe it is why Paul said not to get weary in good-doing - because you are forgiven. I believe it is why the woman called an adulterer was told by Jesus and to go and send no more - she was forgiven. I remember a time back in time in 2002 I had to fly to Mississippi to my aunt's funeral. I went to the Southwest counter. I was the last to get the boarding pass number 116. When I got to the gate, it was already crowded and I sitting there bemoaning the fact that I would be the last to get on the plane and there was very little chance I'd be able to put anything in an overhead. But suddenly a TSA agent came up to me and said, "Give me that ticket." Then he said, "I need you to spread out." So, as I spread out, he wanded me in front of all those people that were going to be ahead of me on that flight. He said, "Turn around and let me wand you again." And all the while I was aware of all of the people staring now as if I had done something wrong. But then he said, "Now, you can board the plane." I said, "What?" He said, "Get on the plane." I got on the plane before everybody at the gate. I had been forgiven for being late. I had been forgiven even thinking I had the last number. That's what forgiveness Christ will give you. Obedience that celebrates that it has been forgiven.
May God bless and keep you and cause God's face to shine upon you and give you peace. Amen.