All in the Family

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3:31-34

At Mark 3:20, we learn that Jesus and His disciples had entered a house, just after Jesus appointed 12 as apostles, and the crowd that gathered was so thick that the He and his disciples could not even eat. His family went to take charge of him and they said, “He is out of his mind.” Apparently, the crowd was so thick that Jesus mother and brothers could not even enter the house.

This was an example of Jesus seeking first the Kingdom of God. He wasn’t interested in eating. It was not that He never got hungry, but Jesus knew that God would provide. Jesus was practicing what he preached in the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink. (Matt. 6:35) Jesus knew that there would be time to eat after the crowds went away.

There is a law in the book of Leviticus that says the Israelites are to farm the land for six years, then let it go unplanted and unharvested in the seventh year. God promised a blessing in the sixth year that would get the children of Israel through the seventh year. Orthodox Jews are adamant about keeping the Sabbath – performing no work on the seventh day – for the same reason. They do no work on the seventh day to demonstrate that God ultimately, God takes care of us, even when we exert no effort.

It’s also worth noting that Jesus and the disciples are in a house. They are not in a Synagogue or a Temple. In a synagogue and in the Temple, men had authority over women, Jews over Gentiles, and Priests over laity. In a house, there is no such restriction.

Consider what Jesus says in our scripture. There are many places in our Bibles where “brothers” is translated “brothers and sisters.” That’s appropriate because it actually meant all siblings, or everyone of the faith, and not just male believers or siblings. The same problem arises with “deacons”, which is always masculine but meant both. In Paul’s letters, the King James translators used “minister” where it referred to men and “servants” where it referred to women. Today, we might use “deacons” and “deaconesses” to make the point that women are included. But the very reason we debate this is that in Paul’s letters, men and women ARE included as deacons, or ministers, or servants, or whatever you want to call them. We are not doing something weird by including women in church leadership – they have always been in church leadership.

But here, we don’t have to politically correct the translation. In the original manuscript, Jesus actually says “mother and brother and sister”. He didn’t say father, because as he had taught, “you have one father, even God,” and that’s certainly how Jesus identified Himself. But the inclusion of “mother” and “sister” in this scripture is from the lips of Jesus, and not some modern addition by the translators. I’m certain that Jesus looked out over the crowd in that house, saw many women, including women followers, and spoke about what he saw. He intentionally said that those who do the will of God “ARE my mother AND my brother AND my sister.”

I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. That means that I am not going to take what it says lightly, and I try not to spin it to personal advantage. We all know that there are denominations who read the translators instead of the word being translated, and by doing that, women are barred from leadership. I think we also go wrong when we read the culture instead of the message. In so many places, the culture of the Bible says that women and gentiles and persons with physical disabilities are less than holy. But in many other places, the Word of God breaks through the culture of that day. We read at Pentecost how the prophet went out of his way to say “sons AND daughters”, “servants, both male AND female.” And if you read Paul to restrict women, then you also have to read how he said that in Christ there is neither slave nor free, Greek nor Jew, male nor female.

The stories of Jesus dining with sinners, calling tax collectors, healing Gentiles and including women are not beside the point; they ARE the point. The Bible sets the scene of a society where normal is one way, then God intervenes to break out of that mold.

Before our scripture today, Jesus has designated the 12 apostles, and we all know that they happened to be men. One was a traitor too, by the way, so we know better than to think that Jesus was selecting the holiest of people. He was choosing those who could move freely in that day, across boarders and into the synagogues and the temple. But at the crucifixion, in Mark 15:40-41, we read this: “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdaline, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him from Jerusalem were also there.”

In Luke 8:1-3, after the story of the woman who anointed Jesus feet, we read this: “After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and villagte to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the Manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”

Please don’t think I’m trying to be feminist or politically correct. What I’m trying to say is we accept women as equals not because it is politically correct, but because it is ACTUALLY correct. Because in the text of a male dominated religion from a male dominated society, scripture written by men has to report on women in leadership or fail to tell the whole story.

This is not about women. When Jesus healed ten lepers, He marveled that the only one who returned to say thanks was a Samaritan. When a Roman Centurian asked Jesus to heal his beloved servant, Jesus praised him as having greater faith than all in Israel because that Gentile came with humility and believed that Jesus could heal without even coming into the house. When Jesus called the first disciples, he didn’t call priests and politicians, but fishermen and tax collectors. Sages from the East followed a star to the newborn Jesus, but the Angels in Heaven appeared to unclean, common shepherds.

There are a lot of scripture that talk about being separate – separate from the world, separate from gentiles, separate from nonbelievers. There are scripture that say touch no unclean thing, and I know we all have heard that the “holy” means “set apart for God.” My grandfather was taught that these scriptures meant that people of different races, nationalities and denominations, and he didn’t shake that until very late in life. He didn’t reject scripture, but he did study it for himself and made up his own mind. Jesus didn’t break the Sabbath and dietary laws; he just took the true meaning of scripture instead of what everyone else said it meant.

My point is not to sow seeds of doubt in the Bible. As I’ve said before, I bow to no one in deference to what scripture says. But I do emphasize what it actually says, and not what people think it says. If you use a scripture to make your point, you have to know and understand all the verses that make the opposite point. And in the end, we have to be humble enough to say that we don’t know everything about the Bible.

Last week, we talked about how God looks beyond outward appearances, how God sees the diamonds while we see the Dixie cups. The Bible has a lot to say about those Dixie cups, but the important part is what it says about those diamonds in the Dixie cup. Peter said scripture is spiritually discerned

The Bible is the story of the family of Adam, then the family of Abraham, then the family of Israel, and finally the family of God. The first three families were by birth, but the last is by faith. Jesus was the son of David and the lion of Judah, and he rightfully claims both titles from his family lineage. But here he tells us that those titles won’t get us into heaven, or keep us out. “Those who do God’s will are my mother, and my brother, and my sister.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, may we all be accepted as brothers and sisters of Christ by doing the Father’s will: Working together, loving one another and walking humbly with God.


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