Joining Jesus’ wider family

Peter Seal, 10 June 2018

Mark 3: 20–35

On this baptism day our gospel reading gives us a vivid Bible picture. This is a peak point in Jesus’ work. He’s under pressure. He’s in the north of the country in his home area of Galilee. The crowds are very large. His family are concerned about him.

In the wider scene, the authorities located in the south are noticing the attention he is receiving. Society as a whole is somewhat nervous and volatile. The Roman authorities under Pilate are nervous because Pilate has instructed them to keep the peace. The Jewish authorities are nervous because Roman disciplinary action can be sudden and brutal.

We’re told that the scribes have come from Jerusalem. They’re there observing, listening and, as it were, ‘taking notes’. Jesus is under such pressure that there isn’t even time, or opportunity, to eat. Jesus is ‘on show’, he’s exposed, his every word listened to, his every action watched.

Members of his family – maybe one or more of his brothers – are in the crowd. They’ve come here to Capernaum.

Jesus is fearless. He shows no sense of caution in the face of danger. Some are saying, ‘He’s gone mad!’ The strain shows; what really gets to Jesus is that some are saying, or implying, that they think his actions of healing are unworthy, even evil. He suggests that such blatant criticism is beyond forgiveness. He’s saying: if you attribute the good works of God to Satan then you make God powerless. God becomes unable to do anything, even to forgive.

At this point the rest of Jesus’ family arrive. This includes his mother. She was getting older and the journey from Nazareth was a significant one. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is worried for her son at a very human level.

We picture a great crowd sitting around Jesus hanging on his every word. His family are outside this group, on the edge of the crowd. Someone gives Jesus a message: ‘Your mother, brothers and sisters are here. They’re asking for you.’ What’s he to do?

He could have sent back a reply, ‘Can’t they see I’m a bit busy at the moment? Tell them I’ll catch up with them later. Tell them I’m fine. There’s no need to worry.’ But it’s as though Jesus pauses to think … as though he realises this is a unique opportunity to make an important point, to get across a message that is at the heart of what he is about. Out come the words: ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ Another pause, and then he adds: ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’.

A message at the heart of what Jesus is about: ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’.

Words of scripture don’t give us Jesus’ tone of voice and we’ll never know how he spoke these words – what the tone or intonation was. We have to do our best to interpret what we read in the light of the wider gospel messages.

I don’t believe Jesus is saying here that he doesn’t care about his family, or that they’re not important to him. It’s as though that’s for private conversation when the crowds have dispersed.

What he’s doing is teaching the crowd in front of him. He’s making the point that, in the kingdom – that is, the wider family he is inaugurating – all who seek to do the will of God are, as it were, his brothers and sisters and mother. What he’s doing is extending and deepening the concept of kinship. He’s moving it from the purely biological to something much wider and bigger.

And that’s exactly what we’re doing today as baby Hugh is baptised. First in his life are his parents Nancy and Will, his brothers Edward, aged 6, and Nico, aged 4. Then there’s his wider family, including his grandfather, who is a priest and will give him a special family blessing at the peace. And then there are his godparents, Tom, Fiona and Andrew, who will have such an important opportunity to support and influence Hugh’s life.

And then there’s each of us. Today we become Hugh’s brothers and sisters, in Christ. We are part of today’s crowd. And then there’s the worldwide church, of which Hugh is becoming an official member.

The message from Jesus is this: ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’.