The gospels of Matthew and Luke start out the story of Jesus with accounts of a little bitty baby in a golden fleece diaper, shepherds or angels in attendance. They give us a while to get used to this Jesus.
That is generally how kids make it to adulthood, right? Because their parents knew them when they were cute little babies?
I kid. I kid.
Mark doesn’t care about our first impression of Jesus. He isn’t going to make us feel comfortable with Jesus.
He has a story to tell about him and he has no time to waste.
His gospel begins with John the Baptist in the wilderness proclaiming repentance. And immediately, Jesus sets off on his mission, gathering disciples, healing people, drawing these really large crowds, and speaking uncomfortable truths.
These really large crowds want something from Jesus. They are pressing in on him, seeking healing, seeking hope, seeking comfort. They are digging holes in roofs and dropping their injured friends down into the room where he is staying so he can heal them.
But the crowd is not of one mind.
Today we’re told his family members were trying to restrain him, to bind him up, because he must have gone out of his right mind. And scribes from Jerusalem are also in the crowds, whispering rather loudly that Jesus is possessed by demons, and that what looks like healing is actually demonic power.
This is a physical text. Crowds pressing in. Sweaty, smelly bodies in close quarters. People wanting to grab hold, to restrain, to physically control Jesus.
And it reminds me our faith is a physical faith. It is not just about ideas and the work of the mind. It is about how we live together in close quarters, and how we do when we bump up against each other, against people who see and understand the world differently than we do.
One person’s healing is another person’s demon possession, after all.
One person’s gratefulness for the crowd that allows them access to Jesus is another person’s concern that because of the crowd, Jesus won’t even be able to eat dinner and get a night’s sleep.
Jesus critiques the scribes by speaking in parables. He speaks to us as well.
‘How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.’
No matter what you believe or don’t believe about demons, Jesus’ point here is that if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.
Sadly, it isn’t hard to come up with images of division. Our political system is so broken—do any of us still believe much good will come out of the halls of congress unless something changes?
We see division and brokenness much closer to home too, in our own relationships and lives.
And the Presbyterian Church USA, the church that has nurtured and sustained me my whole life long and whom I gratefully serve now—we have been divided for too long.
I’m grateful that 121 presbyteries have now approved the marriage amendment, which is a sizable majority over the simple majority of 86 that it needed to pass. I pray that the vote signifies that we can put our division behind us and that we can strengthen our house so we can go out together to do the work God is calling us to do.
I recognize in the vote total the truth that people have left, churches have left, while we were fighting. We have been divided for a long time. And a house divided is now our starting place, the position from which we seek reconciliation and restoration.
No one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man. Then, indeed, the house can be plundered.
Those are the consequences to division and fighting. We used to be the strong man. Now it feels like we’re bound and gagged, locked in a closet, while people carry off our candlesticks.
At the same time, there are things for which it is worth our trouble to stand up and speak out. Even at the cost of division.
The trick, of course, is figuring out when we are standing up for the gospel and when are we being jerks.
I know, that even in the division of the church, Presbyterians on both sides of the arguments have acted with good intention, for Jesus, for the gospel, as we saw it.
But we saw it differently.
For a few days this past week, I went to San Diego to join a conversation that has been under way for a few years now. Representatives of different church groups have been meeting a few times a year to seek common ground and understanding. Because I’m now the co-moderator of Covenant Network, one of the groups in the conversation, I was invited to join the discussion. We had much in common, our love of Jesus and his church, to start with. We also had huge differences—interpretation of scripture and different understandings of LGBTQ inclusion in the life of faith.
And there were moments when I felt crowded. I could feel our differences rubbing uncomfortably. I recognized my own inclination to ascribe bad intention to the other view points. Thankfully, it never reached “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons” level of disagreement. But our differences were real, and often in conflict.
And through the difficult conversations, we also had moments of understanding and many more moments of laughter, camaraderie, and prayer with and for each other.
And all of us, no matter how we see the world, are standing together in the crowd, trying to get closer to Jesus, trying to get healing—for ourselves or for our friends. We’re still going to be bumping up against each other though, unless we can find a way out of the crowd and into relationship.
And at the end of this passage, Jesus offers us a way to move forward together.
At first glance, though, it is a bit difficult to hear. Jesus is talking to the crowd and is told, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”
And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
I admit, it doesn’t look like a path to unity. And I don’t recommend either of my children should start saying things like that.
The passage began, though, when Jesus went home and the crowd was so strong, pressing in on him, that it says they couldn’t even eat. One could imagine Mary had some legitimate concerns about her rhododendrons as these people kept climbing over them to get to Jesus.
If Jesus’ mother and brothers had heard the stories of what happened when holes were dug in that guy’s roof in chapter 2, we could imagine they might have concerns about their future home repair bills.
Their concerns about their comfort, their home, their peace and quiet were decidedly different than Jesus’ concerns about teaching, and healing, and sharing the kingdom of God with all of those people, those strangers, those people who were not family.
As much as I sympathize with Mary, as much as I am certain I would likely respond in the same way—Jesus, I’m glad you’re so successful at your new job and all but do your ‘friends’ need to step on my rose bushes? Can’t they make an appointment because our dinner is getting cold?—I also see how Mary and his brothers are completely missing the point.
The time to seek God’s kingdom is NOW. The time to offer healing to people is NOW. The time to follow Jesus is NOW.
You can choose to be about your own agenda and your own comfort OR you can choose to be with Jesus, listening to his teaching, following him into discipleship.
And when we do that, we become family.
Who are my mother and brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.
This doesn’t mean his actual family is excluded.
It does mean they can’t rely on their historical relationships to the exclusion of God’s call.
What would it mean for us to see the “other”, the people jostling against us in the crowd, as mother and father, brother and sister?
Can we set down our self-righteousness that divides and pick up our kindness, which unites?
Instead of seeing people as competition for Jesus’ attention and for his healing, what would the world look like if we saw them as family, and sought their flourishing as well as our own?
A house divided cannot stand. A house united, as family, is strong and exhibits God’s kingdom for the world. Let’s go out into the world to share the good news in a way that will strengthen God’s kingdom. Amen