Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? I think we must begin this morning by acknowledging that this is a difficult text. As a matter of fact, several years ago I lead a Lenten study called: Scriptures that Make Us Cringe, and this is one of the texts that I used. I chose this text as one of my “cringers” because, if taken out of context, it seems to paint Jesus as disloyal son and a horrible brother. And on an even more ominous level, it has been used to across the history of the Church to justify alienating family members who disagree on matters of religion. But this interpretation doesn’t track with the Jesus we know and love from the wider context of the gospels. And when this happens, we must look for a deeper meaning within and behind the text.
Now, as I began to think about his “deeper meaning,” I remembered a film that I watched many years ago called The Way. This film came to mind because it’s a powerful and inspirational story about family, friends and the challenges we face while navigating this ever-changing and complicated world. The Way stars Martin Sheen, who plays Tom, an American doctor who went to France to collect the remains of his adult son. His son had been killed in the Pyrenees in a storm while on a pilgrimage known as The Way of Saint James. But rather than returning home, Tom decided to embark on the historical journey himself to honor his son’s desire to finish the quest. What Tom didn’t plan on, however, was the profound impact the journey would have on him. You see, because he was inexperienced as a hiker, Tom soon discovered that he could not complete the journey alone. On his way, Tom met three other pilgrims from around the world with whom he formed a relationship. But here’s the twist. Tom came to realize, through his relationship with these other pilgrims, the meaning of one of the last things his son said before their falling-out; “There’s a difference,” the young man said, “between the life we live and the life we choose.”[i]
There’s a difference between the life with live and the life we choose. What if we were to apply this wisdom to family? Is there a difference between the “family” we have been given and the “family” we choose?
In Mark’s account of this exchange, the family Jesus had been given was either frustrated with him, or just plain worried about him. They heard that he’d been drawing crowds again, so they went to restrain him. And it seems to me that his mother and brothers took this action because they were embarrassed; people were talking. So, in response Jesus expanded the definition of what it means to belong to a family. He expanded it to include the family we choose.
And this is an important concept for us to understand. It’s important because families, or “households,” were the primary social and economic units of first-century society. In other words, family was a foundational part of life, and thus, a foundational part of Scripture. The Bible begins in Genesis, not with talk of nations or tribes…but families. Big families. Real families.[ii] But Jesus challenges this deeply embedded cultural assumption when he determines his true family not by blood relations or kinship ties but by doing the will of God. No wonder some people are bent on killing him in this book.[iii]
But how does this affect us? How might this expanded concept of family speak to us, here, in the 21st century. How can we, as individuals and as a faith community, “do the will of God.”
I don’t know. Perhaps, with this text in the background, we can live-into the will of God by expanding our understanding of family. Maybe the will of God is for us to find a way to live in community with the family we have been given and the family we choose. My friends, the will of God is for us to extend the boundries of community to include a diversity of family members. We are called to welcome and invite all people into this household and family of God. How do we know this? Again, we must look past these few lines and view them within the context of the entire gospel. We must look behind this passage and remember that it’s just a small part of a larger whole; a wider concept. And that concept, the foundational concept of the gospels, is love of God and neighbor.
And this is where Tom ended up in The Way. He finally realized that his family had grown to include a dusty, somewhat dysfunctional Dutchman, a Canadian woman searching for her identity, and an Irish author suffering from writer’s block. In the end, Tom understood that the family he had been given and the family chose were one in the same. And the lesson he learned was to let love overcome any challenges that arise.
Sisters and Brothers, as we continue on our Way, may we too come to understand that the definition of family is grounded in love. And as we continue this pilgrimage we call life, may we let God’s love and grace and compassion be expressed in all our relationships; the ones we choose and well as the ones we’ve been given.
May it be so. Amen.
[ii] Rick Morley. All in The Family. (www.rickmorley.com 2012)
[iii] Matthew L. Skinner. What Makes a Family? (www.huffingtonpost.com, 2017)