Mark 3: 20-35 – The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time – for June 10, 2012
“Who are my mother and my brothers…” (Mark 3:33)
Can I write anything new about Jesus and his, or the Bible’s, family values? Others have shared insights—those I agree and disagree with—far better than me.
Under the best of circumstances, whatever I now ponder about parents or children, marriage or familial relationships, will also likely be a repetition of earlier attempts to struggle with Biblical values through my sermons or web ramblings. Under the worst of circumstances, I’ll unintentionally crib ideas from those “better than me” I’ve already mentioned.
And yet having nothing new to say won’t stop the inspiration and irritation that invariably surfaces when I read one of the Gospels most troubling passages. Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21 present variations of Jesus’ mother and brothers arriving while he’s teaching . . . but they share a singular reaction. Upon hearing his family is nearby, the Nazarene asks the harsh question, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” His jarring response was not his kin, not those who grew up with him, but instead those who have become his followers.
His own flesh and blood family . . . rejected? Mark’s Gospel was the most brutal about setting this scene. At Mark 3:19, after listing Jesus’ disciples and right before a “crowd came together” to listen to his preaching, the writer of the earliest Gospel claimed “he went home.” In other words, Mark depicted Jesus’ rejecting his kinfolk in the very place where his mother comforted him on her lap and his siblings played hide-and-go seek.
In my lifetime, spanning the beginnings of the Cold War in the early 1950s to the current information age, family values have been trumpeted as what we have lost and what we must regain. According to some of my fellow Christians, divorce, gay marriage, single-parenting and women in the workplace (to name a few of our modern “ailments”) have eroded or discarded the Bible’s true values . . . the scriptural foundation of how a family should look and act and believe.
I disagree with that view. There’s much in the Bible, in the family traditions formed 2,000 and more years ago, I find reprehensible.
- From Genesis to Revelation, the women of the Bible were property, with less value than a herd of goats or wheat field.
- Arranged marriages were the norm.
- Slaves were routinely part of the households of the rich.
- Boys, especially the eldest, inherited a family’s land. Girls mostly received . . . well, nothing.
More famously, Abraham attempted to foist off his wife Sarah as his sister for fear of the Egyptians (Genesis 12:10ff); the very married King David pursued Bathsheba with equal doses of lust and stupidity; and the apostle Paul gave, in I Corinthians 7, some of the most muddled advice on marriage found anywhere in or out of scripture. Those three examples were easy to suggest. It wouldn’t be difficult to create a lengthier list of specific unnerving and unsettling anti-family values in scripture.
I was raised in a lovely, nurturing family. Mom worked hard—say about 168 hours a week—as a wife, mother and homemaker. Dad, for the most part his own “boss,” was not only successful enough for us to experience middle-class comfort, but also arrived home every night to be with his family. With a happy childhood and safe neighborhood and easy access to schools, my family resembled those found in Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best.
In Sunday School, on a thousand childhood Sundays, I joined other kids to sing Jesus Loves Me. From home to school to church, I thought everyone was like me and like my family.
When young, I didn’t know my 1950s world of Leave It To Beaver or the first century world of Jesus’ hometown (or any time period throughout history) included racial conflict, divorce, faithful believers who weren’t Christian, atheists, homosexuals, greedy rich, desperate poor, abandoned orphans, neglected widows, abused women, glass ceilings, double-standards and hypocrisy.
In my youth, everything appeared rosy and right and all I had to do was turn to any page of the Bible too see exactly how to live, how to learn values, or how to know the difference between a do and a don’t, a sin and salvation.
Am I jaded now? Has age addled me? Or am I more honest or less gullible or—also honestly—just plain wrong? Whatever the reasons, this I now believe: quite a few pages within the Bible disrupt and dismantle the very values some claim it contains.
Who is my family? I am thankful for the messy, wonderful, nurturing family of my birth. How blessed I was to be raised by loving parents. But my sense of Jesus’ family values leads me to open my faith and my eyes wide enough to embrace those different from me.
I am grateful to have learned about faith from Muslims and Jews and more. Atheists have taught me about loving the neighbor far better than some of my fellow Christians. Heterosexual and homosexual parents I’ve personally married have been lousy parents. And, no matter what their orientation, some have been near perfect parents. I’ve had friends who loved me unconditionally and extended family that ignored me.
Who is my family? Jesus’ question is worth asking every day. Sharing a last name or DNA will not be the only answer.