Jesus had family problems, too.

A Japanese friend of mine shared that she wanted to become a Christian, but she first had to come to terms with what that would mean to her family. How would her mother and father react? Did she have the courage to refuse to pray to her family ancestors? Was she willing to be rejected and shunned if they decided she had shamed them? My friend’s family was the greatest barrier to her growing faith in Jesus.

Family troubles not only keep some from following Jesus in the first place, they can also complicate how we follow Jesus. Today’s passage in Mark 3 assures us that Jesus understands what it means to be shamed, manipulated, and betrayed by family. Jesus had family problems, too.

Let’s read Mark 3:20-21, 31-35.

And [Jesus] comes home. Again, the crowd gathers so that they were not able even to eat dinner. And his relatives, having heard, went out to get him under control. They were saying that he had lost his mind.

Let me stop here. Mark is setting up what theologians have named, “A Markan Sandwich.” Mark uses a story-telling device of using two stories to reinforce his message, sandwiching one within the two halves of the other. Here, Mark begins to tell about Jesus’ family, then he switches to another story about scribes. Finally, he returns to the family story which shares a similar theme. I will return to verses 22-30 abut the scribes next week. Now, let us return to the first story of Jesus’ family troubles.

And his mother and brothers arrive. And standing outside, they sent a summons to him.

And the crowd was sitting around him. They said to him, “Look, your mother and brothers are outside seeking you.”

And answering them, he says, “Who is my mother and brothers?” Then, having looked at those in the circle sitting around him, he says, “Here! My mother and my brothers! For whoever will do the will of God, they are my brother and sister and mother.”

As Jesus returns to his home base in Capernaum, his relatives were on the lookout for him. Maybe a nephew was posted to run and tell his aunt that he was back. Maybe the aunt quickly walked down the road, and found Mary, who had walked the fourteen miles from Nazareth hoping to catch Jesus at his new home in Capernaum. Maybe she was staying with relatives while she waited. Jesus had moved to Capernaum since being rejected by his friends and family in Nazareth (Luke 4:29-31).  Maybe Mary sent her little niece running to tell Jesus’ brothers who were helping to load a shipment of dried fish on a caravan to Sepphoris. Maybe she runs up to them yelling, “He’s back!” They all look at each other and get their game face on. Maybe they all meet at a prearranged spot and walk down the street following the excited crowd picking up cousins and nephew’s friend’s neighbors as they went. You know how the family gossip can spread and grow, am I right?

Jesus’ family barges in, intrudes and critiques him. They let everyone know they think he is crazy. They are ashamed of him. They lay claim to their privileged position as his relatives to manipulate, control, and restrict him. They think they have the right to determine his mental capacity, his behavior, his friends and his core beliefs. In this story, they are just like the rest of Jesus’ enemies. They do not listen to him. They don’t believe he is who he says he is.

Have you ever had family treat you this way? How did it make you feel? Shame? Out of control? Did you acquiesce to their demands to keep the peace? Did you go along with their wishes to save the family name? I can imagine Jesus felt ashamed in front of the crowd. I bet he felt manipulated. He might have been tempted to comply with their wishes in an attempt to honor his mother. Thank God, he did not.

Family is not sacred to Jesus. Some cultures around the world honor family so highly, it becomes almost like worship. Like my Japanese friend, some believe that nothing comes before family. Family is placed on a pedestal and prioritized before the individual members themselves. Family often becomes an idea that undermines the very sentiment it espouses. Jesus turns this sentiment upside down. For Jesus, family is his not his priority. He teaches us to seek God first.  

Jesus does not dismiss the wrongs his family inflicted on him. In doing so, he gives us permission to recognize when our family hurts us. He refuses their summons and he publicly acknowledges their betrayal. He does not put a good face on it, nor excuse their behavior, nor does he pretend all is fine. He makes it clear that his family is broken. Admitting this does not mean that he was not willing to forgive them. He went to the cross so that everyone who had betrayed him could be forgiven. But, before forgiveness, we need to realize that sometimes our family has wronged us. Some abuse us. Some embarrass us. Some treat us unfairly. Some reject us. Jesus knows how it feels to be betrayed by those who should love and believe in us the most.

Jesus teaches that family does not determine our personal choice to follow God. Throughout the book, Mark reveals that Jesus is confident and sure of his own identity. He knows that God loves him. He knows he is God’s Son. Even in the face of familial pressure, Jesus does not waver from his dedication to doing God’s will. This is the example to follow. Family cannot erase God’s personal love for each of us. Family cannot determine what we believe about Jesus. Family holds no authority over our own choice to follow God or to reject him.

How does Jesus respond to his family problems? He finds a new family. Jesus never proposes isolation. He gathers others like himself. He has a crowd of like-minded people surrounding him, and he redefines this diverse group as his sisters, his brothers, and his mother. This family supports, listens, and believes in him.

Jesus declares that those who want to be his family are welcome. The family of Jesus is not limited by blood, race, sex or privilege. It is unified by belief that Jesus is who he claimed to be, that he was not crazy, and that he had heavenly authority to speak for God. Many seek Jesus. Some want to control him. Some want to use him. Some want to slander him. But, those who believe him are invited to join his family.

When we follow Jesus, we are never without a family.

PostScript…As I write that last sentence, I find I cannot close there. Because it seems that many in the family of God, who should love, support, listen and believe other Christians fail to do so. The family of God has betrayed its members in similar ways as Jesus’ family failed him. Churches seek to manipulate, control and declare people out of their minds. Church, as the family of Jesus, we must do better.

Jesus understands what it means to be shamed, manipulated, and betrayed by family. Jesus had family problems, too.

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