Thursday, February 11, 2016

Taking a Closer Look at the Family of God

Mark 6:4-6

THIS Lenten season we are looking at the New Testament teaching concerning the family of God. We are talking about far more than just the extended family of Jesus, which historically was normal size. We are looking at the larger family which Jesus created through His loving words and actions.

The text shows us a picture of Jesus in His role as son to His Mother, brother to His siblings, and yet the Teacher and Master of all. Is that an impossible combination? It certainly led to some hard words on this occasion. We might wonder whether He cared about His earthly family at all. Was Jesus an unfaithful son? Before we answer that, let's get the question right. Was Jesus unfaithful because He spoke the truth? Wasn't it the more charitable of Him to point out that the members of His family were unbelievers? Would it have been better for Him to allow them to slide into hell unopposed? Look also at the people He affirmed on this occasion, the disciples, the town people around Him. Didn't He need to be a brother to those who followed Him? Didn't they need His support for their struggling faith? Wasn't He helping them by preferring their company to that of His family? Jesus was including in His family anyone who took the Gospel seriously.

Does charity begin at home? Yes, it does, but it must be true charity, not just telling people what they want to hear. When Jesus said, "A prophet is without honor in his own country," He was saying something we all have suspected. Sometimes church administrators have defined an "expert" as "someone who does what we do in another city." There were two reputations in conflict in Nazareth… the reputation Jesus had as "the Carpenter," and the reputation He had recently made for Himself as a prophet who preached and healed. The evangelist wants us to know how offended the Lord's relatives and neighbors were. They even called Him, "Mary's son…" very unusual since Jews always identified themselves with their fathers. They were insulting Jesus by calling Him the son of a woman.

So we might naturally ask, why did Mark decide to write this down? Mark was not trying to insult Jesus, He ingeniously left the insult in the narrative to point out that Jesus is the Son of God. Yes, He was the Carpenter, but He was far more than just a carpenter. Yes, He was the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, as well as some unnamed sisters, but He wasn't helping them any by staying close.  It was their very familiarity with Jesus that was causing the Nazarenes to stumble.  Yet even that was a divine instrument.   By breaking the earthly family, Jesus was able to extend the Holy Family to ever greater dimensions.  He did not teach the disciples to say, "Jesus' Father who art in heaven…" He taught, "Our Father." The disciples were part of God's Family. It was wrong for the earthly brothers to demand that He choose between them and the disciples. He wanted to be a brother to both, but only the disciples would let Him.

On a previous visit to Nazareth described in chapter 3 (See Mark 3:31-35), the Lord's relatives thought He was insane, and actually sought to restrain Him. Just at that time some lawyers came from Jerusalem saying that He was using the power of hell. Then, what He really needed at that moment, His mother and brothers showed up. If they believed Him, they wouldn't be trying to put Him away. Was Jesus an unfaithful son because He wouldn't let them silence the Gospel? They had heard what was happening in other towns around them, but now they couldn't believe it was anything good. Why was that? We can't blame it on the Prophet's country. The Judeans didn't believe any more than the Galileans. The devil was corrupting the Word as soon as these people heard it. He knew that what Jesus was offering went far beyond His family, beyond His own ethnic group. He could not stop it, but he could and did oppose it. Even now the devil's aim is to shrink the family of God down to the lowest possible number. By forcing Jesus to choose between giving offense and denying His mission, he saw to it that the evangelizing would never be easy.

"Children of God" is one of those catchy phrases we like to throw around. We mean, usually, that we trust God enough to be secure in His love, and want to please Him by what we do and say. Did you know there is a cult called Children of God? Do you know that one of the things this cult demands is that its members turn upon their families in complete rejection? They teach, "We are all the family you need." They point to passages like the one we are studying to try to prove that Jesus wants us to hate our natural families. That is horribly evil. Jesus wrote the Fourth Commandment. He has never set it aside. You cannot be doing God's will if you hate your natural family. Jesus did not hate His. He turned away from them because He loved them enough to leave them alone, to keep from getting tangled up in family matters when He had to make atonement for the world. Why did He speak as He did? Because He had to call us away from all that is vanity. There are some who worship their family. They look at a pedigree going back to John Alden, or they are waiting for an inheritance that would make them very comfortable, or they think they have to control their brothers and sisters, or their children, or all of the above. We must leave such vanity behind us, and look to Jesus alone for what really counts. All vanities end with death.

God's family does not end with death, rather it begins with death, with Holy Baptism, a very real death which is the normal way to become a child of God. The Holy Spirit pushes out our Old Adam, our sinful nature. We say it is drowned. God forgives our sins, and renews us with the Holy Spirit. As we grow in holiness, we become mature as members of God's family. Jesus calls us His brothers, sisters, and mother because He has extended the Holy Family to include us. As we learn that all-important memory work, as we pray with more maturity and conviction, as we pass more confidently through trials and temptations, as we meditate daily on the Word of God, as we become more loving, and if it be God's will, wiser, our heavenly Father is looking at us the way our own fathers did when we took our first steps, proud of what we were doing, but certainly not content to let it rest there. We will pass through another death when our souls leave our bodies, remaining members of God's family. And finally, on the glorious Day of the Resurrection, there will be a reunion of the extended Holy Family. Universal mankind, unfortunately, will not be there, but the faithful will, gathered at the home of Jesus, our Brother. AMEN.

Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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