We have all have likely experienced cringe-worthy moments. A few weeks ago, Donald Trump was speaking and he made a comment about how Hillary Clinton would completely gut the second amendment. Now I’m not going to get into what he meant or what he didn’t mean about letting the second amendment advocates doing something about Hillary Clinton. But did you see the response the man in the red shirt had as Donald Trump said what he said? He cringed. Trump made his comment and the man gasped and cringed. He knew that what Trump just said was something that was shocking and he cringed and then he laughed. A cringe-worthy moment is when someone says something that makes you think, “Ooooo... that’s not good.”
In the passage we look at today, Jesus says something that made those who were with him probably cringe. It very much sounded like he was dismissing and even disparaging his own family. In fact, Jesus was making a point that the kingdom of God requires an even higher priority than loyalty to our families. Let’s read Mark 3:31-35.
Last week we saw that Jesus had been pressed with throngs of people and had gone to Peter and Andrew’s house in Capernaum, the home base of Jesus while he was in Galilee. There he was surrounded by so many people that Jesus wasn’t even able to eat. Last week we read that Jesus’ family had come with purpose of taking him back home to Nazareth because they thought he was mad. The interaction with the teachers of the law interrupted this story but after Jesus put the teachers of the law in their place, the scene with his family continues. We have to imagine that this small house was absolutely packed full with so many people that no one else could get inside, including Jesus’ family. So they sent a message through the crowd from one to another until it reached Jesus.
We don’t know if Jesus was aware of why his family was calling him. But Jesus knew that there were times when following God’s will meant that family ties would have to be cut. And since he himself did this here, he never hesitated calling people to abandon their homes and families in radical obedience to the gospel. As a result, it is not surprising that he failed to respond to the call of his family.
However, those sitting around him did call his attention to his families’ calls. “Jesus, I know you’re busy but your mom is here and wants to talk with you.” Everyone knows that if your mom calls you or visits you, you take that call or take the time to visit, right? You don’t let her call go to voice mail or tell her to go away. In the days of Jesus both the Law of God and common piety demanded that he respect the request of his mother. The Fifth Commandment requires that we honor our father and mother. We would fully expect Jesus to honor his mother and talk with her, but he didn’t.
Let’s pause for a moment to ask why Mark includes this little scene. Remember that everything Mark includes in his gospel has a purpose and place. His is the shortest of the gospels and is perhaps best to think of it as a short summary that would be used as a tract of sorts to those who didn’t know Jesus. So there isn’t any “filler” in Mark’s gospel; everything is there for a purpose. Mark likely inserts this to contrast the proper response with the Scribes’ response. The teachers of the law were ready to say that Jesus was a false teacher who was possessed with a demon. Mark is going to say that the right response to Jesus is to simply follow him.
Later in their ongoing correspondence both said they hoped that they would never meet in battle again, but if they did they knew that they would dutifully defend their respective countries in spite of their status as brothers. They both survived the war, continued their close relationship and both died in the early 1900's completely at peace with each other. Yet at that time, they had chosen and identified with a higher cause than their family and were ready to die for that, even if it meant killing his own brother. Jesus is talking here about ultimate allegiances and what is the new true family.
II. In Jesus’ response we see that brand new family in verses 34-35.
Jesus poses a rhetorical question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Now imagine you are Jesus’ mother and this is the response that comes back to you. It would sting, wouldn’t it? Jesus appeared to show disrespect or even disdain for his own mother! Jesus is not only not taking his mother’s call; he is blatantly saying that these new people around him are more important. It seems likely that Jesus was looking at those who sat closest to him when he announced, “Here are my mother and my brothers and my sisters.” Now most likely the group he had in mind were the Twelve. The Twelve were in a very special and close relationship with Jesus as a result of their following his call. This bound them to him with ties more intimate than those of even family.
Jesus’ statement regarding the true family, however, looks beyond the Twelve to a larger group of men and women. He says, “Whoever shall do the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” In the new family in the kingdom of God there must be radical obedience to God. It is no longer blood lines but obedience to God’s will that will determine who is in the family. But let’s think about this for while it’s no longer about blood-lines, it really is about blood, isn’t it. What makes it possible to be in the family of Jesus is radical obedience to God. And we can’t do that; we cannot obey God perfectly which is what is required. And so we need the blood of Jesus which makes it possible. Jesus’ blood makes it possible for us to say that we are perfectly obedient.
Jesus’ words must be understood within the context of the kingdom of God. The Kingdom brings a new urgency in the demand for obedience to God. And at the same time this demand creates a brand new fellowship. As we jointly pursue doing the will of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, it binds us closer to Jesus but also creates new brothers and sisters.
And sometimes the family is seen in unusual ways. Writing about his time as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, Admiral Jeremiah Denton writes:
I had a small cross that meant a lot to me. It had been made by a fellow POW out of bamboo strands. Making it had been a great risk for him; getting it to me was a great risk to both of us. I knew the guards would never let me keep the cross, so I hid it in a propaganda pamphlet, along with a list of other prisoners in the camp. By day, the pamphlet was under my pallet. But at night I took it out and held the cross in my hand as I prayed. There was great spiritual comfort in it for me.
The work crew had been standing by watching, five or six very old Vietnamese men and women, too old for any other kind of work. They were ordered into my cell to do their job. A half-hour passed before they came out and I was allowed to return. Immediately I reached under the pallet and found the pamphlet. The list of prisoners was gone. Still angry, I began tearing the pamphlet apart. Then I felt a bulge among the pages. There was a cross. A new one, beautifully woven from the straw strands of a broom. Obviously the work crew had made it. I shuddered at the thought of the punishment they would have suffered had they been caught.
Then I realized something; something that gave me even more spiritual comfort and hope for the
future as I prayed with the new cross. Despite the deeds of human beings that can make enemies
out of strangers, the love of God can still reach down and make us brothers and sisters.
III. What does this passage say to us regarding the new kingdom family today?
What are we to do with what Jesus says? While families are important, there is an even greater set of relationships in the kingdom and that is the new family of God. Jesus is not saying that families don’t have a vital role to play in the kingdom. Families are very important within the kingdom but families are not the final goal; the kingdom of God is the highest goal. Remember the context of this passage: Jesus is confronting the powers of Satan. This is spiritual warfare and Jesus is saying that in that warfare, kingdom principles are higher than family values.
The message for us is to focus on the new family without rejecting our earthly families. We still should honor our fathers and mothers and build healthy family relationships. Jesus honored his mother and made sure she was taken care of when he was hanging on the cross. But for those of us who are disciples of Jesus, following Jesus and living according to the principles of his kingdom must always take precedence.
And that means we must do all we can to build the relationships in the new family, our brothers and sisters in Christ. That has been the goal of the sessions on fellowship on Sundays in August. And so we strive to learn together in small groups, in Sunday School classes as well as in times of talking over doughnuts and coffee. We pray together and for each other, not just on Sunday mornings but throughout the week by remembering the prayer needs that are mentioned each week and by using the monthly prayer calendars. We eat together and fellowship together to build the bonds that we have as brothers and sisters in Christ. We must continue to see each other as brothers and sisters in this family as we grow together more and more in the family of God. We must do all we can to encourage our families and to help them be strong, but the kingdom of God is bigger than having strong families.