Today we’re considering one thing Jesus said about how his followers were to relate to each other. And we’re exploring this subject to get at a deeper issue: how does Jesus think about the community of his disciples? What kind of community are they? I raise this question because many people in the church want to talk about “community” and “fellowship” and “relationship,” but very few people are actually clear about what they believe Jesus wanted for his followers.
We’re looking at this question of “community” today through the lens of Mark 3, in which we find Jesus at the outset of his ministry in Galilee, surrounded by significant crowds, and encountering a growing hostility from the respected leadership of Israel. (Also, there are some VERY interesting statements in this passage all kinds of things, but I’m going to focus on the community issue… feel free to send in questions though!)
Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
1. My brother and my sister and my mother.
The last line of this passage says a great deal. Jesus claims that all those who do the will of God (this would mean becoming a disciple of his!) are his family, and therefore are also family with each other. It is difficult to overstate the radical nature of this claim. In Jesus’ day family was the most important web of relationships anyone had. Extended families shared honor and status (the true currency of the age), they protected each other, they cared for each other in sickness and in old age, they provided a proper burial for one another, and they labored together for the economic welfare of the family. It is hard for us, as modern western individualists, to even conceive of the importance of the family in the ancient Mediterranean world. Loyalty to one’s family was the greatest obligation in the ancient world.
2. Family means solidarity.
The point of Jesus’ disciples being “family” then is not that they had a particular sentimental feeling for one another or that they lived in the same home or that they celebrated holidays together. The point is that they were supposed to live in solidarity. They were to protect and defend one another, they were to share their resources, to ensure everyone was cared for, to show loyalty to one another, and to work together in the “family business,” (helping other people join the family of disciples). Their loyalty to the family of disciples was now their number one priority, and note that it cannot be separated from their loyalty to Jesus. The other disciples (like them or not!) are Jesus’ “brothers and sisters and mothers,” so refusing them would be tantamount to refusing Jesus.
There’s much we could say about this point with regard to the church today. I will simply say this: we don’t even have this as an ideal or goal anymore. Yes, we promote community, but generally that just means social connection, friendship and potentially a little vulnerability in relationship. Furthermore, we usually promote community as something that we do for ourselves. And yes it is needed and beneficial. But that misses the point. Jesus doesn’t call people his family so that they get their needs met; he calls them into his family for the sake of others! At the very least, a step in the right direction would be to reclaim the language of "family" that we find all over the New Testament. Then we'd at least be acknowledging the goal. And my hope would be that if we're bold enough to say "family" about other disciples we might just be convicted enough to start living into it!
3. Jesus doesn’t reject his biological family.
When Jesus calls other people his “brother and sister and mother” he does not mean that he is no longer a member of his biological family. But he is saying that he is not beholden to them. He now has a much larger family who he is obligated to serve and show loyalty to. His biological family in the passage is probably looking out for him (they know he’s had conflicts with authorities and now people from Jerusalem are watching him… not good!) and also making sure he doesn’t hurt the family name. As we know from other scriptures, Jesus’ biological family will wind up being a part of his larger family, but undoubtedly it took them time to accept that Jesus’ loyalty to them was because they “did the will of God,” and not because they were his blood relatives.
Who do you live in solidarity with?