Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A third question - family ties

I confess my dipping into different questions of Jesus has been spasmodic, with lengthy intervals between them - the last one was in May! But I think that's how they happened in the gospel story.  Those who would grow to know Jesus were on a long learning curve. Interestingly, he does not ask the crunch question: 'Who do you say that I am?' until much later (Mark 8:29).  Along the way, would-be followers have many other questions to face first. And so do we.  It's almost as though they are learning more and more about the implications of following Jesus before they are confronted by his ultimate challenge about declaring who he is.

One of the most radical implications that exploded in the faces of disciples on their learning curse concerned family ties.  Belonging to families is complex.  Rarely do relationships run smoothly as families develop.  We can idealize family life with mother, father and 2.5 children happily living ever after but too many have suffered horror stories of broken dysfunctional families.  We were given a rather cynical fridge magnet: Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.  We do not have choice about the family we are born into and family life for many is full of disappointment.

When Jesus is ministering, surrounded by so many people that he (and his disciples) have not even been able to eat, we read the story of Jesus' family coming to take charge of him. It provides one of the very few episodes when we hear about Jesus’ family dynamics.  The full story is found in Mark 3:20-35.  

Now it’s dangerous to psychologize Bible stories, read into them motives, and assess mood from the twentieth century. They are in Capernaum (maybe even Peter's house) and Jesus is under pressure when his family (probably back in Nazareth) hear of his situation. v21. When the family heard about this, they went to take charge of him for they said: He is out of his mind. Maybe they think he is so over-extended he is getting beside himself.  Such is his commitment to work, teaching, healing, and antagonizing powerful people, they fear that he will kill himself by neglect if they don’t take charge of him. The word take charge can be translated: arrest!  They want to protect him. Protect him from himself.  But maybe there are other tensions too.  Some members of his family are not sure about the state of his mental health. John 7:5 says that even the brothers of Jesus didn’t believe that he was the Messiah. Maybe they are going to get him before he makes a laughing-stock of himself.  After all, they have claims on him. They are family.

In the middle of this scene where there is intense hostility from certain teachers of the law who accuse Jesus of being possessed by Satan, we find his family coming to make their natural claims on him. What happens next opens us up to one of the greatest revolutions of Christian faith.

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