WHO IS MY MOTHER?
6 June, 2021- Second Sunday in Pentecost, Proper 5B
Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I cringed when I realized I was on the rotation to preach today’s Gospel. As a mother, this one hits home: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Jesus asks, dismissing his family as they stand outside the door, knocking to get in to see him. With one son away at college, another leaving soon, and a third soon following in their tracks, I am in the season of life when I might feel like I’m the one on the outside of that door, worried about my children, knocking to be let in. So, the last thing I want to hear coming out of Jesus’ mouth is “Who is my mother?”
Even before I was a mother, though, this particular passage was shocking to me. What happened to “honor your father and mother?” What happened to “do unto others as you would have them to unto you?” What is going on here?! Why is Jesus speaking this way?
These verses cause me to think about other times when Jesus was, let’s say, a bit less than “honoring” of his mother:
- In the Gospel of John, he was pretty snippy when Mary asked him to change the water into wine at the wedding in Cana: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” he says about the plight of the banquet master who has run out of wine. (John 2:4)
- Or, I think about the time in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus went missing as a boy. When his parents found him after three days – three days! – Jesus dismisses their concern with what I can imagine is a breezy “Why were you searching for me?” Didn’t you know this is where I’d be? (Luke 2:49). If you close your eyes you can almost see the eye roll.
In today’s gospel passage, we see Jesus again dismissing his family, appearing to disavow his relationship with them. It doesn’t seem very Jesus-like, does it? Somewhat inconsistent with the pious picture many of us may hold of Jesus.
If we look at this passage closer, though, we can see that it’s not really a referendum on the value Jesus places on his human family of origin. Jesus isn’t really focused on his mother. Instead, he seems to be using her arrival as a foil to comment on a different way of being family. I wonder if Jesus’ response to his family is less about family members being kept on the outside, knocking to get in, and more about shocking us into paying attention. Hmm. He’s got my attention!
If that’s the case, what is it that our attention is being pointed toward? As one commentator puts it, this passage “carr[ies] deep implications for the theme of Christian discipleship” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 116). He continues: “It clearly has to do with a Christian understanding of ‘family’” (116).
As I was thinking about today’s gospel over the weekend, I received an email that I think exemplifies the kind of Christian family Jesus was pointing toward. Liz Steinhauser, one of the priests at St. Stephens in the South End, was writing to say thank you to all the churches across Eastern Massachusetts that have partnered with St. Stephens to provide emergency relief throughout the pandemic. She reported that over the past 15 months, through partnerships with churches like All Saints, St. Stephens has supported more than 300 families each week with groceries, winter clothing, masks, books, and art supplies. Three hundred families – weekly — for 15 months! They launched a pandemic relief fund which was able to provide over $500,000 in gift cards for a community which, at the worst points of the pandemic, suffered an unemployment rate of 90%. And if we add the value of the in-kind contributions of material items, the total value of the support provided into this community was nearly $800,000. Think of that. $800,000 injected into a community that had nowhere else to turn.
This is the kind of family Jesus was pointing toward. Far from rejecting his mother, Jesus was stopping us in our tracks, shocking us into paying attention as he redefined relationship.
“Whoever does the will of God,” Jesus says, that “is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). God’s family is far wider than our own immediate family. Discipleship is about moving beyond our comfort, beyond our settled lives. Discipleship is recognizing our broader “family” – the people we’re connected with and to whom we are responsibility. People like us – like you – and others like you in congregations sprinkled throughout the Commonwealth saw beyond your traditionally-defined interests and accepted this invitation to discipleship.
So, instead of understanding Jesus’ words as placing his family on the outside looking in, we might understand them as an invitation to notice the ways in which we’re being called to see the web of our relationships as much broader, and to recognize the amazing things that can happen when we do. You are doing the will of God. You are family.
I use St. Stephens as an example, but the same could be said for this parish’s partnership with the MANNA community, or with the Brookline Food Pantry. The same could be said about the ways adults in the community show up to be a conversation partner with our church school students. Or for those who participated in our “From Many, One” conversations this spring, or our ongoing Courageous Conversations – really listening and hearing other members of this community. In these ways and many more, you are living into the family Jesus calls his followers to become.
There is a second thing I think our attention is being pointed toward by this passage: the consequences of living family in this way. With this definition of family, Jesus finds himself living on the border of the dangerous – the life-threatening, really. What do I mean by that? Today’s Gospel selection begins with Jesus’ family knocking on the door (Mark 2:21), and it ends 15 verses later with the return of his family and Jesus’ redefinition of what family means among those who would follow him (Mark 2:35). In the verses between, a dramatic scene plays out that is rife with danger. In a world of empire and oppression, we all know that Jesus is not among the powerful of his day, yet he directly confronts the authorities. He is charged, in effect, with performing magic – “By the ruler of the demons he casts out demons” (Mark 3:22) – a charge that could carry the penalty of execution.
The dramatic scene gives us a flavor of the conflict, the level of verbal warfare that takes place – we sense the danger of Jesus’ mission – the risk he is willing to assume in order to challenge the system of power and injustice that prevents his people – his family – from thriving. And then Jesus’ mother appears again, standing on the outside, knocking to get in. His family members have heard about the accusations leveled against Jesus. They arrive to try to protect their family member from further inflaming the authorities. Jesus responds: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).
Jesus knows…this text is tightly constructed to demonstrate – with Jesus’ nuclear family at the beginning and a redefinition of “family” at the end – what we are being invited into is not without risk. We dare to be involved. We dare to care. We dare to understand that our own well-being is tied up in the well-being of, as Jesus phrases it, “the least of these who are members of my family” (Matthew 25:40).
Even as we rejoice in these early days of being able to be back together here, in our house, it seems that today’s Gospel challenges us to leave our place of comfort and to take on the risk of change. We know this world is not the world God dreams for us. If it’s possible, this time of pandemic has revealed that in even starker terms. But this time has also revealed the ways in which we are all connected.
As we move into this time of greater ease, will we continue to make ourselves uneasy as we grow into the way of being family that Jesus points toward? Will we continue the struggle for, the love of, the care of our Godly family, even as we know that accepting this invitation risks changing everything?