Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
“You realize, of course, that I’m a Pharisee.” The comment was made by one of my religion professors in college. He also happened to be a rabbi and I was the only Gentile – the only Christian - in that particular Judaism class. He enjoyed challenging me to see my own tradition through new eyes. This is the same guy who would gently tease that I “belonged to that heretical Nazarite sect” - you know, after those 1st century Jews who looked to Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah? As that course and others went on, I learned to tease him right back, but for each of us it was always done in the spirit of deep respect for the other’s faith. After I’d taken a fall term course where he’d given us a couple of days off for the Jewish high holy days, I took a spring term course where he invited me to tell my Jewish classmates all about my observance of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the days we Christians gather during Holy Week to remember Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples and his death on the cross. I was surprised when he gave us those days off too. “But they’re your high holy days,” he said; “what’s fair is fair.”
Ever since those Judaism classes in college, growing my interfaith understanding has been deeply important to me. Over the last few years that’s expanded to include learning more about the Muslim religion as well. There is much we can learn from one another there too, as we’ll see during our interfaith dialogue here in a few weeks. Meanwhile, with our roots as Christians lying in the Jewish faith, it’s especially important we do our best to understand that tradition.
Our focus for this final week in our “Jesus Through Their Eyes” sermon series is “insiders” in the gospel of Mark. In Jesus’ day, in the Jewish community in which he lived, it seems to me the ultimate insiders must have been the scribes and the Pharisees. Devoted to the law of God, dedicated to careful observance of God’s commandments, their lives were ordered around in-depth study of Scripture and daily religious observances and prayers. These were the good folks you’d look to if you had a question about how to practice your faith, or about how a particular passage from the Torah or the prophets ought to be interpreted.
So it concerns me whenever Christians toss around the word “Pharisee” as if it’s a synonym for “villain” and ought to cue our boos and hisses. For Jesus and his fellow Jews, to call someone a “Pharisee” was in many ways to indicate he was a pillar of the community. These weren’t Jews in name only. They were serious about worshiping and following God; they were trying extremely hard to do the right thing. Certainly the interreligious parallels aren’t exact, but to help us wrap our minds around the way they were seen at the time, think about the way a Christian community might consider its respected elders and deacons and pastors, faithful Sunday School teachers, seminary professors, Bible scholars, and other dedicated saints of the church. Or think about an individual whose Christian faith and practice you really admire, someone who strikes you as deeply devoted to God. Now just as an exercise, try imagining that’s what a Pharisee looks like to you. Remember, the apostle Paul proudly invoked his credentials as a Pharisee as an indication of how dedicated he was to his Jewish faith.
Jesus had plenty of critique for the scribes and Pharisees of his day. We see it in all four gospels. But it’s important to understand why he called them out. It wasn’t because they were scribes or Pharisees. It wasn’t because they were devoted to trying to live according to God’s law, as if following God’s law was a bad thing. Jesus himself was a practicing Jew. Respecting God’s law was, for him and his whole community, a good thing. So Jesus taking on the scribes and Pharisees in the gospels wasn’t about Jesus vs. the Jews. It was more a case of: “hey, guys, let’s get our own house in order.”
Two of Jesus’ main concerns, when it came to calling out these pillars of his faith community, were a fixation on small details at the expense of the big picture, and a spirit of hypocrisy. Both come up in our text today from Mark 7, which on the surface appears to be about handwashing.
The text says “the Pharisees and some of the scribes” noticed that Jesus and his disciples were eating “with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.” But a parenthetical note follows, explaining what’s at issue here is less a matter of cleanliness in general, and more a matter of following the letter of certain ritual purity laws. When they get on the disciples’ case about this, Jesus says “hang on, let’s think about the spirit in which you are performing those rituals,” quoting the prophet Isaiah on the danger of honoring God with their lips, when their hearts are far from God, and reminding them their hand washing ritual is a human tradition rather than a divine command.
Jesus isn’t saying handwashing is inherently evil (the Center for Disease Control would be relieved to hear it, I imagine, during cold and flu season). His point is that if our hearts aren’t in it, if we’re behaving hypocritically, none of our religious practices will do us a bit of good. This isn’t an anti-Jewish statement; in fact, it’s a theme common to a number of Old Testament prophets. You may remember the word of God through the prophet Amos, for instance: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them… but let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-22, 24)
Jesus’ concern here is religious people’s tendency to focus on an external religious practice – any external religious practice – rather than the state of one’s heart. When we fixate on smaller scale details like these, we can miss the big picture.
To tell another story on myself here, I was taught at church camp as a child that having a very specific type of personal devotional time, with an unwavering commitment to a particular format for my prayers and Bible reading every single morning, was the key to faithfulness as a Christian. It’s taken the patient guidance of a number of respected mentors to help me internalize that the whole point of that exercise was supposed to be enjoying some private time with God. So that resting in God’s presence with a beautiful Scripture text or a hymn, or reading the same Bible passage as many days in a row as I find it speaks to me (rather than speedreading my way through multiple chapters), or noticing with awestruck wonder the majesty of God’s creation while outside on a walk – these things can all accomplish that same goal as well. It’s been far more effective, certainly, in helping me feel close to God than it ever was to beat myself up about “doing it wrong.”
Again, Jesus cautions against religious folks’ tendency to focus on an external religious practice – any external religious practice – rather than the state of one’s heart, and one’s relationship with God. When we fixate on smaller scale details like these, we can miss the big picture.
Jesus also outs the insiders – here in our text from Mark 7, and plenty of other times in the gospels, too – for worrying more about someone else’s relationship with God than their own.
In this context, I’ve heard more sermons than I’d care to recall about the Pharisees having too many rules. How dare they add to the Torah so many laws of their own invention, and then have the audacity to pretend those rules were actually important?
Well, I’ve got bad news for you, my friends. You’re in a Presbyterian church today. Which means we have this thing called the Book of Order, part of our denomination’s constitution, that spells out for us in painstaking detail all kinds of guidelines about how we should order our lives together. Ask any Presbyterian pastor how they felt about their polity class in seminary, or about taking their ordination exams, and I’ll bet they could regale you with stories of having to learn their way around this rule book. I remember thoroughly outlining and tabbing and highlighting my 1991 copy, my head spinning with references like D-2.0203b and G-1.0504, as I prepared for my own ordination exams.
As it so happens there is excellent theology in these pages too. Really inspiring explanations of why we do what we do in worship, and why we govern and discipline ourselves as a church body the way we do. This rule book can be enormously helpful as we seek to practice our own faith faithfully. When we take these principles seriously and try our best to follow them, it can help us to walk in the ways God intends for us. And, of course, that was the intent behind those hundreds of additional Jewish laws too. They were created as “a fence around the Torah,” since following the larger body of Jewish law would prevent people from in any way violating God’s law.
At any rate, whatever else may be our takeaways today, let not a denomination known for its allegiance to Robert’s Rules of Order, and doing things “decently and in order” according to this book – let’s not cast the first stone at anyone who takes comfort in their own religious rules. Remember instead how Jesus would regularly out the insiders for worrying more about someone else’s relationship with God than their own.
And what might Jesus have to say about the overall length of our Presbyterian rule book and the sheer number of details included in it? I’m relieved to report that our national church has actually made some headway in reducing the magnitude of the Book of Order in recent years. It’s a start, and we probably have plenty of work yet to do as we consider the kinds of concerns Jesus raised with the religious leaders of his day, and how we might heed those same warnings ourselves.
Meanwhile some of you, I realize, have not only never seen a copy of this Book of Order I speak of, you might not have even known it existed. (What on earth is she talking about?) That’s fine! We have a lot of hyphenated Presbyterians among us. Presby-Methodists and Bapti-terians and Presby-Catholics and so on. And some of you may be new to Church, period. But the same principle applies no matter our particular religious upbringing, or lack thereof. Are there ways in which we have judged others for letting God down, while neglecting to notice our own mistakes? Where might God be calling us back to majoring on the majors, if you will, and focusing on what’s truly important? Are there areas of our lives where we’ve not given enough attention to the state of our hearts?
I look around this room – and look in the mirror– and I see good church folks, regulars in worship, the kinds of people who turn up on the Sunday of the annual congregational meeting. We care about the state of our church finances, and we’re excited about church mission projects, and it matters to us what we’re teaching our children and youth here in Sunday School, and perhaps we’ve devoted many hours of our lives to attending church services and church meetings. If we understand ourselves as the religious insiders of our own day, are there analogies to the scribes and Pharisees as insiders in Jesus’ day? And if so, how might we see Jesus again through their eyes?
Where is he challenging us, and where are his invitations today, as we look back on another year of ministry together and set our sights on where God is calling us next?
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
We return this week to our journey through the gospel of Mark, doing our best to see Jesus through the eyes of those who encountered him face to face. So far we’ve considered the perspectives of his family and his disciples, his hometown crowd and the fan club that followed him around from town to town. Most recently we looked at the outsiders Jesus spent time with, those who because of poverty or because of contagious diseases, for instance, lived at the margins of society in that time.
Today’s stories put us at the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum, inviting us to consider how Jesus may have looked to the rich and famous. We’ll start with the two famous gentlemen we’ve just read about: Herod and Pilate.
The Herod of Mark 6 is not Herod the Great, in other words not the Herod who spoke with the wise men who came from the east shortly after Jesus’ birth, in Matthew 2. That Herod called for all children two and under in Bethlehem to be put to death out of fear that Jesus would one day overthrow him as ruler. This now seems to be Herod Antipas, one of his sons, since we’re 30 years or so years later now that Jesus is an adult. But we quickly learn that this particular Herod Junior has borrowed a page from his father in his inclination to kill those who get in his way. Here the trouble causer has been John the Baptist, who had the nerve to call him out on his sexual misconduct, and whose head was requested on a platter by his partner in crime. Mark fills us in on that back story in the verses that follow the portion we read this morning, Herod giving the object of his desire just what she asked for, by ordering John’s grisly execution.
Our focus today, though, is on how this Herod saw Jesus. And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that given the alternatives being proposed at the time (could Jesus be Elijah, or another prophet of old, or maybe John the Baptist?), Herod immediately concludes, “John the Baptist, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” You don’t need a degree in psychology to infer Herod’s guilt had a part to play in that particular identification of Jesus. Knowing what he did was wrong, you get this sense he’s feeling haunted by John’s ghost, come back to seek some kind of vengeance. (Shakespeare’s MacBeth clan having had nothing on the 1stcentury Herods when it came to things like putting your enemies to death.)
While we’re on the subject of famous characters and power plays, what do we learn about Pilate’s view of Jesus in Mark 15? Over in John’s gospel we’re offered a bit more dialogue between the two; Mark’s account (true to his usual form) is sparser in detail. We do find Pilate asking Jesus “Are you King of the Jews?” so we know that label had reached him, along with the “other accusations” of the chief priests (v.3). Jesus answers cryptically “Yousay so.” So Pilate asks again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” When Jesus still won’t speak up for himself, we’re told “Pilate was amazed.” And just beyond the portion we read aloud today, we’re given a couple more insights into Pilate’s view of the matter. Verse 10 says “he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed [Jesus] over.” And he even asks the crowd demanding Jesus be crucified, “Why? What evil has he done?” So we know Pilate doesn’t think Jesus is guilty of a capital offense. Still, the worked-up crowd has him worried, so he decides to release Barabbas instead and have Jesus flogged and crucified. There’s clearly a disconnect between how Pilate actually seesJesus, and what he does to him, to satisfy the crowd. A disconnect that has led many to wonder how that decision may have haunted Pilate over the years.
However else famous, powerful men like Herod and Pilate may have seen Jesus, it’s clear he made them nervous. He refused to play by their rules. He attracted big numbers of followers and haters. In other words, he needed to be managed. We don’t have much in the gospel of Mark detailing what they thought of him, but what we do have is telling. You can almost see the thought bubbles above Herod and Pilate’s heads: “Who is this guy? Just how big a threat is he? How quickly can I get rid of him?”
The rich man in Mark 10 was clearly a much nicer guy than either of these two more famous characters. The text tells us he ran to Jesus and knelt before him, demonstrating how eager he was to meet him and how impressed he was by what he’d heard of his wisdom. We have every reason to suppose this rich man was sincere and well-intentioned, that he was telling the truth about keeping the commandments, that he honestly wanted Jesus’ advice for how to inherit eternal life. But when Jesus tells him to give away all that he has in order to gain treasure in heaven, he can’t bring himself to do it.
I read commentaries this week that were quick to point out his reluctance was due to a widespread expectation among Jews in that day that wealth was a sign of God’s favor. That Jesus’ words here flew in the face of what this man had been taught his whole life by the Jewish community in which he’d been raised. Hmm. Isn’t it interesting how quickly we can distance ourselves from a text? Making it about those poor benighted souls in another tradition, or way back when, and how completely theymisunderstood what Jesus was about? As if modern day Christians would obviously know better than to see a connection between riches and God’s favor.
I’ll never forget listening to the radio one day a few years back, and as I flipped through the various stations, stumbling across a Christian pastor saying these words: “if you walk uprightly, nothing is too good for you.” I hoped he’d quickly make it clear that he didn’t mean actual things, but spiritual gifts, or the gift of God’s grace, or whatever. But no, he went on to explain: “If you walk with God, nothing is too good for you. No amount of money. No make or model of car. No home, however big or extravagant it may be. If you walk with God, nothing is too good for you!” Seriously? So a Rolls Royce and a Jaguar, or three, and a few pieces of luxury waterfront property– that’s what God wants for us? While so many are suffering just around the corner? What would Jesus say?
But then again – since you may have noticed I’m now doing that distancing thing with that radio pastor – what selfish moves am I making myself, with my own resources?
Money can be seductive. I’m not immune to its appeal. I stand under these words too. But whatever the so-called “gospel of success” may be, I can assure you: any variation on “greed is good” is notthe way thoughtful Christians orJews are taught to read their Scriptures.
At any rate, this rich man runs to Jesus, eager to get it right in God’s eyes. “What do I have to do to enter the kingdom of heaven?” “Well, as a good, law-abiding man there’s really only one more thing you need to do.” “Sure thing, rabbi. What is it?” “Just put everything you own up for sale, empty out your bank account, and give it all away to the poor.” And the man went away, shocked and grieving, for he had many possessions.
“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus continues. “It would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Some argue the eye of the needle here is not a sewing needle, but rather a particular kind of gate in a city wall. That could be I suppose, but I still don’t see how it gets us off the hook – the eye of the needle must be far too small for a camel to pass through or Jesus’ analogy wouldn’t make any sense. And don’t think for a minute it won’t hurt a rich man to try to squeeze through with saddlebags full of cash.
Why this hard word to someone who was doing all right for himself? I wonder if this rich man was like the man of whom Benjamin Franklin writes – “He does not possess wealth. It possesses him.” Perhaps hard words needed to be said. Hard changes made in a lifestyle that had grown accustomed to all the privileges of money.
Now I’m sure in this room we represent a wide range of income levels, but certainly compared to much of the world, we’re pretty well off, if we have safe, warm places to live, and plenty of food to eat. If we’re honest with ourselves, many of us enjoy extra luxuries too. All of which got me thinking…
Other perspectives in this sermon series may have been a little harder for us to extrapolate. It may have taken some imagination for us to try to see Jesus through the eyes of his mother and siblings, for instance, or through the eyes of those first disciples, or through the eyes of a first century leper or prostitute. But seeing Jesus through the eyes of this particularman – imagining ourselvestold to give up everything we own, and how we’d feel about that – that one can hit pretty close to home. At least for the comfortable camels among us, myself included.
Does this mean none of us can enter the kingdom of heaven? We’d do well to ask with the disciples, “then who can be saved?” “Ah, well for mortalsit is impossible,” Jesus explains; “fortunately God’s up to the challenge.”
But just as he’d been doing in so many other encounters, with so many different kinds of people, here again Jesus was making clear: the kingdom of God isn’t like the kingdom into which he was born, or for that matter the one into which all of us were born, where powerful men like Herod and Pilate call the shots, and where securing huge amounts of money is thought to guarantee the best possible life.
Instead, in God’s kingdom, everything we’ve been taught about looking out for number one, and reaching out with both fists to claim anything we can get our hands on – all of it is turned completely on its head. To be trulygreat we are called to serve others, called to demonstrate extravagant generosity. In the kingdom of God, the poor should not only be kept in our sights, their needs should guide our spending.
We’ll sing in a minute about Jesus’ “Meekness and Majesty,” about our Creator God taking on human form. It’s telling what kind of human form he chose to take. Far from the sheltered world of a Herod or a Pilate, far from the halls of power, he spent the majority of his time with a bunch of hard-working fisherman - and with those whose company theywere surprised he’d keep. Far from buying into any sort of upward mobility like the rich man in Mark 10, Jesus showed no inclination to accumulate material things at all.
But what sounded like good news to the poor and powerless didn’t necessarily come across as such great news for the rich and famous. You can see how questions of Jesus’ identity – who isthis guy? - would be answered rather differently depending on where you stood when you met him. I suspect that remains the case.
After all, we don’t have to look far to find evidence of the fall of Christendom in the relatively affluent West. Articles a-plenty will be happy to fill you in just how fast mainline denominations have been losing members in the US and Europe. But it’s important to remember that’s only part of the story of the worldwide body of Christ today. It turns out the Church is actually growing tremendously right now in impoverished places around the globe.
Which perhaps just begs the question:
How does Jesus look through their eyes?
And through ours?
Poor Richard’s Almanack
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
As we make our way through Mark’s gospel this winter, we’ve been asking ourselves: how did Jesus come across to those who met him face to face? How did he look through their eyes?
We started by considering the perspective of his own family members, and then of the twelve disciples, and last week we talked about how Jesus must have looked not only to his hometown crowd in Nazareth but also to his fan club, the great crowds that followed him around as his fame spread.
Those crowds included people of all kinds: people of widely varying income levels and social standing, women and children as well as men, Gentiles as well as Jews.
But there’s a category of encounter so important to Jesus’ identity that it merits its own separate discussion today. And that is the category of “outsiders.” Individuals on the margins, at the fringes of society. Those who for one reason or another didn’t fit in. Those who lived, metaphorically and sometimes even physically, outside mainstream society in his day. People who were dismissed, discounted, or even shunned entirely by those on the “inside.”
To give you a sense of just how important it was to Jesus’ ministry to befriend these outsiders, I need you to open your Bibles to the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, p. 912 in your pew Bibles. Go ahead and flip quickly through the first several chapters and call out as many people as you can find who – in that time, in that context – mainstream society would have been surprised to see Jesus spending time with. Hint: a couple of them Steve just read about in our texts for today. You also have helpful subheadings in your pew Bibles.
[E.g. the man with an unclean spirit (1:21-28), those with diseases and demons (1:24), the leper (1:40-45), the paralytic (2:1-12), Levi the tax collector (2:13-17), man with a withered hand (3:1-6), Gerasene demoniac (5:1-20), sick girl and woman with out of control flow of blood (5:21-41). If you keep going, you find more sick people healed (6:53-56), a conversation with a Syrophoenician woman (7:24-30), encounters with a deaf man (7:31-37), a blind man (8:22-26), another boy with a spirit who is suffering from convulsions (9:14-29)… and so on.]
You may have studied or heard sermons about particular episodes from that list. There are fascinating details to dive into in each story, but what I found most compelling this week was the fact that you can hardly flip a page in Mark’s gospel without finding Jesus spending time with outsiders. Whether because physical disabilities prevented them from engaging in income-generating work, or because contagious diseases kept them living outside the city, or because unsavory occupations meant people didn’t want to associate with them (tax collectors who were despised for colluding with the Roman authorities, for instance, or women who had resorted to prostitution to earn their daily bread). It seems everywhere polite society said: “don’t go there,” Jesus went. He wasn’t afraid of touching sick or broken bodies or soothing anguished spirits. He wasn’t worried about being tainted by association with this or that supposedly undesirable element. The result? I wonder if sharing meals with him, being treated as fully human by someone who enjoyed their company, was – for those who’d been on the outs – as powerful a balm for their spirits as any physical healing he offered them. Those who’d been friendless found in Jesus someone who truly cared.
There is so much about Jesus that can inspire us as we read through the gospels. But as I see him again this morning through the eyes of these outsiders, I’m struck by how life-changing it would be to meet someone who looked you in the eye, held your hand, broke bread with you, treated you as an equal, if you’d never experienced that before. Everyone in that list you just named as you flipped through the gospel of Mark – they were always beloved children of God. We know this; the Bible itself tells us so. But that doesn’t mean they were treated accordingly. They may have even stopped believing in their own worth themselves. What a gift, then, to meet this Jesus of Nazareth, to benefit not only from his healing touch, but from his compassion, his friendship, his love.
The Church has shined brightest through the ages since Jesus’ day when it has followed his example of standing at the margins of society, bravely befriending those who’d have otherwise been denied a place. Like those in the Middle Ages who ministered to victims of the bubonic plague, risking their own lives in the process. Like 20thcentury American Christians who were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement, and those who were first in line to reach out to AIDS patients when that disease was little understood and greatly feared. Like Mother Theresa and her community ministering among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. Like Christians standing with refugees of the Syrian war, or with immigrant families separated at our own southern border today.
Back in our text, stories like those we’ve read today about Jesus casting out what the gospel writers call “demons” and “unclean spirits” raise all kinds of medical questions for contemporary readers. Did the boy who cried out with a loud voice have Tourette’s Syndrome? Did the one who convulsed and foamed at the mouth have epilepsy? Should we on any level equate these and other unclean spirits in the gospels with what we would now call mental illnesses of varying types and degrees of seriousness?
These are fascinating questions to consider, but it seems to me no amount of newer medical terminology, insofar as it might apply, would undermine the pointof these Jesus stories. Whatever the affliction of body, mind, or spirit someone battled, and however uncomfortable it made those around them, none of it lessened Jesus’ compassion or stifled his hospitality or limited his healing power. On the contrary! So much of his mission (as we saw on our whirlwind tour of Mark today) led him to those who were considered different, other-than, less-than, whether their wounds were visible or invisible to those around them. And anyone who’s done battle with mental illness, whether personally or with a family member or dear friend, knows that fight still carries a stigma today, much as we know it should be otherwise. It can be both exhausting and isolating even in an age of powerful medications and advanced medical practices. So whether the source of these particular gospel afflictions involved supernatural forces or was largely due to brain chemistry, there’s no question the individuals involved would have been eternally grateful for Jesus’ understanding as well as for his healing touch.
Jesus through the eyes of these and other outsiders was not only a powerful healer. He was a man with a God-sized heart, unafraid to be associated with anyone others might shun or ignore. The last and the least, the sick and the suffering, found in him a kind, generous friend.
There could of course be any number of takeaways from all of these stories about Jesus among the outsiders. For instance, what message might he have for comfortably middle-class Seattle residents in the face of a citywide epidemic of homelessness, or for American Christians in the face of a massive global refugee crisis, or for white Christians who are largely protected from the tragic effects of pervasive racism? Where would Jesus position himself today? Who wouldhe be focused on befriending and including and uplifting? Whose tears would he be drying, and in whose homes would he be eating? To the extent that we in the Church are insiders, are we hesitant to spend time in those places, and invest in those relationships, where Jesus remains busily at work?
Meanwhile, both within and outside these church doors, today’s other takeaway is surely for those who worry they’re not welcome, not fully one of us, or that the wounds you carry prevent you from being worthy of an invitation to Christ’s table. We all have our moments of self-doubt, I imagine. Battle scars, both visible and invisible, can fool us into thinking we’re outsiders when it comes to God’s Church, God’s kingdom, God’s love.
So whatever it is about your neighbor, or yourself, that feels most unlovable. Whatever it is about your neighbor, or yourself, that you can hardly stand to think about, because it pains you too much, worries you too much, is too uncomfortable or too frightening. Whatever it is about your neighbor, or yourself, that deceives you into believing some are worthy of compassion and others are not, that some are welcome at Christ’s table and some are not. Whatever makes you worry that God can’t possibly love them, or love you - not really, not fully, until you get it together, make a change, become someone else. Whatever it is, however scary it is, however much it hurts, there’s one thing I know for sure.
Jesus is there. He loves you more than you can possibly imagine.
And he’s not for a minute going to leave you to face it alone.
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
As we try to see Jesus through the eyes of those who knew him first-hand, we turn today to his hometown crowd in Nazareth, and this episode in Mark’s gospel where Jesus begins to teach in the synagogue there. “Many who heard him were astounded,” asking “where did this man get all this?” Isn’t he Mary’s son? James and Simon’s brother? Aren’t these his sisters? The text says they “took offense” at him (Mark 6:3), and Jesus was “amazed at their unbelief” (Mark 6:6).
The residents of Nazareth aren’t always portrayed sympathetically. Why didn’t they recognize Jesus as the Messiah, some wonder, when he was right there among them?
I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me until this week to look up the total population of Nazareth in Jesus’ day. It seems from the archaeological record to have been in the range of a few hundred people, maybe 500 tops. In other words, Nazareth was a small town.
And I don’t mean small the way we think of our community here in Magnolia as small, where you’re as likely as not to run into someone you know in the grocery store. I’ve learned Magnolia’s population is upwards of 15,000.
In a town of a few hundred people, you don’t just see a few familiar faces while out running errands. You’re likely to know everyone. Which got me wondering: might it change my impression of the hometown crowd’s reaction to Jesus to reconsider their story with that factor in mind?
I think about the small town where I grew up, for instance, in rural upstate NY. Not Magnolia small. Nazareth-in-Jesus’-day small. No traffic lights, just the two - or maybe it’s three - stop signs, a single building that functioned as gas station, corner store, and restaurant. We knew we’d hit the big time when a little bank with one teller window appeared next to the equally small post office when I was a kid. It wasn’t until I was away at seminary years later that a deli moved in on the other side of the bank. And at some point the general store (the old fashioned kind that used to display farmer’s overalls next to tin buckets full of nails) was remodeled to become a small library. The downtown corridor of Westerlo, NY was then, and remains today, about 5 buildings long from end to end. To be fair, there’s another business in town just up the hill, a factory that employs a hundred or so people. We lived right across the street from the factory (our family business) and we knew better than to try crossing that street during what the locals call “rush minute.” That’s when the whistle blows at 4:30 every afternoon and all 100 employees peel out of the parking lot at once.
Westerlo, NY is Nazareth small. Small enough that I’d be considered rude if I didn’t wave to everyone that drives by each time I’m back there. I may or may not recognize them after this many years away, but they generally know who I am. Simply because - whether or not they also happen to work at the family business - odds are good they’re my aunt’s neighbor friend, or they went to elementary school with my uncle or my dad.
With that kind of small town picture in mind, let’s return to Jesus’ return to Nazareth.
I expect the visit started off well as the hometown crowd welcomed him back. We’re a number of healing miracles into the gospel of Mark by this point in chapter 6, and Jesus is gaining quite a reputation as a teacher too. Local boy makes good. That kind of thing goes over really well, winning you headlines and column inches in the factory newsletter and the local paper. Think Harry Bailey as war hero in the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It wasn’t just his family, as you may remember; the whole town of Bedford Falls was proud of him, and considered him their son. So as Jesus walked through town with his family on their way to the local synagogue, I can imagine neighbors stopping him to say hello with a handshake, a hug, a friendly pat on the back as they all head in to service together. His old school chums maybe lining up to be interviewed by reporters (“I was his best friend, back in the day…”) And can’t you just see his rabbi, his teachers, and his aunties beaming at him as he stood up to read the Scriptures?
But there’s the rub. He didn’t just read the Scriptures. He started to interpret them. In fact, over in Luke’s gospel we’re told he read from the Isaiah scroll in the synagogue and had the nerve to say: “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
Think about it. The Nazareth synagogue crowd may have included the equivalents of his kindergarten Sunday school teacher and the pastor who’d confirmed him as a teenager. The church ladies who’d changed his diapers in the nursery and knew how many cookies he used to hoard at coffee hour as kid. The guys who’d been on the building & grounds committee with his carpenter dad, and the friends who played with him on the church softball team.
You don’t go around bragging in small towns. You don’t put yourself up on a pedestal. And certainly don’t step into the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church and say: “Remember all those lessons you taught me in Vacation Bible School when I was a kid? Remember those memory verses I had to learn in your class to earn a scholarship to church camp? It was all about me!”
… Granted, in Jesus’ case, it happened to be true…
Still, it wasn’t exactly a page out of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” to say so in that setting. I’m no longer surprised at all that there were skeptics in Nazareth. Telling themhow to interpret Scripture passages they’dtaught him? Claiming he– this kid they’d known since he first toddled around and skinned his knees next door – claiming hewas the answer to all their prayers? At any rate, it appears the way Jesus looked through theireyes went downhill fast. From “Hey, look, he’s home! Let’s go say hi!” to “What a cocky little, full-of-himself … I would have thought Mary and Joe raised him better than that.” Jesus says “prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” (Mark 6:4) And I’ve got to say, I understand a little better now why Nazareth would have been a tough crowd.
But Jesus through the eyes of those from other towns who knew about him primarily through his healing miracles – that was another view entirely. As I mentioned, he’s gathered a whole fan club by this point in the story. Mark 1:45 tells us “Jesus could no longer go into a town openly but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.” Our text from chapter 3 says “a great multitude” followed him from Galilee, and “they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem,” and other places too. (Mark 3:7-8) In fact he asks his disciples to ready a boat for him, knowing he’s at risk of being crushed by these crowds! That’s celebrity for you. It was only last week we read about Jesus calling his very first two disciples, and then another two, away from their fishing boats. And now he’s enlisting those guys as bodyguards because so many people are trying to get near him. To hear him speak. To touch him. To beg for a cure. A few chapters later will find him feeding over 5,000 people (Mark 6:30-44); two chapters after that we find a similar story where he feeds a crowd of 4,000 (Mark 8:1-10). Jesus’ teaching may not be welcome back home in Nazareth, but he’s certainly welcome in other places.
By the way, there’s a fascinating little note at the end of today’s reading from Mark 3 where the text says: “Whenever unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’” (Mark 3:11) We’ll talk a little more about unclean spirits next time. For now, let’s at least notice they’re catching onto something others haven’t. Something Mark told us right at the outset in chapter 1 verse 1, when he introduced “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Something the voice from heaven had said at Jesus’ baptism a little later in chapter 1 (“You are my Son, the Beloved”) and that other spirits will shout out now and then along the way as well. But no one else in the story will figure it out until after Jesus’ death. Peter manages to identify him as the Messiah, at least, in Mark 8, but it’s only after Jesus takes his final breath on the cross that a Roman centurion, the first and only humanin Mark’s gospel to say so, declares of him: “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39) Meanwhile, when the unclean spirits do identify Jesus here in chapter 3 as the Son of God, he tells them to keep quiet about it.
In fact, we’re told Jesus ordered most everyone not to talk about him, not to spread the word about his healing miracles. It seems they couldn’t help themselves. He was just that impressive. Curing diseased bodies and healing broken spirits and changing lives everywhere he went. Of course you’d want to tell everyone you knew what he’d done for you. And then they’d want a piece of him too.
At any rate, this study in contrasts we see with the hometown crowd vs. the fan club, skeptics vs. believers – it’s a dynamic that will continue throughout the rest of the gospel. We’ll find people flocking to Jesus… and people repelled by him. People hanging on his every word, following him everywhere he goes… and people disappointed by him, even disgusted by those he allows near him… People who maybe staked out a spot the night before to get a front row seat to hear him … and people careful to distance themselves from him, fearful of his fame and influence.
I wonder, sometimes, in which camp I’d find myself if I were there. Maybe you do too.
It’s worth considering, since in a sense we’re faced with the same challenge as that Nazareth congregation, and those huge crowds that followed him from town to town.
Will we allow one set of preconceptions or another to blind us to Jesus’ true identity and purpose? Or will we recognize him – not only as a hometown hero with wisdom to share, not only as a celebrity healer – but also (as those unclean spirits immediately recognized) as the Son of God?
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
For our sermon series this winter, we’re trying to see Jesus again through the eyes of those who encountered him face to face.
We began last Sunday with his own family members: his cousin John the Baptist and his mother and brothers. Today we turn to the disciples who followed Jesus most closely, his inner circle. A number of them were fishermen by trade, which already made this morning’s sermon title hard to resist (a title borrowed from a best-selling book about Olympic rowers from the Seattle area). And in all three of this morning’s texts from the gospel of Mark, “in the boat” is precisely where we find the boys. So let’s take each story in turn and see what the disciples’ maritime perspective can teach us about Jesus.
First in chapter 1. This episode comes so early in Mark’s gospel that we haven’t learned much about Jesus yet. So far we only know he was baptized by John (that story is told in just 3 verses), that he was tempted in the wilderness (that story is told in just 2 verses), and then his whole preaching ministry in Galilee so far is summed up in a single verse just before the passage we read today: “The time is fulfilled,” Jesus says, “and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15) Mark’s narration is so sparse on detail, we’re left wondering what – if anything – these four fishermen had heard about Jesus before he turned up and asked them to join him. And that’s not the only remarkable thing about their story here. You may remember we talked last week about the word “immediately” being quite common in Mark? It’s a word that appears twice here in just a few verses, as each pair of brothers is said to drop what they’re doing (nets, boats, all of it) and “immediately” follow Jesus.
So clearly Jesus, through their eyes, was a compelling figure. He must have connected with them on a significant level for them to do this seemingly impetuous thing, abandoning the life and the livelihood they’d known to join an itinerant preacher as he made his way from town to town. Certainly we see Jesus noticing and appreciating their skill as fishermen as he defines their new role in familiar terms: from now on, you’ll be fishing for people. And whatever it was about that encounter that convinced them, it was enough. Immediately they dropped their fishing nets to follow him.
I also find it interesting that for all we’ll read later on about crowds following Jesus, here in chapter 1 we find him to be the one who’s walking around doing the finding. Notice: he’s not waiting at home for a posse to appear. Hegoes to them. He calls and appoints themto be on his team.
Skipping ahead to chapter 4, it’s presumably these same disciples, along with several others Jesus had since called to follow him, who are out with him in a boat, making their way from one shoreline preaching location to another. While they’re out, “a great windstorm” comes up, and waves are suddenly crashing all around them. It doesn’t take much imagination for us to put ourselves in the disciples’ boat shoes here and picture even the most experienced among them fearful and struggling against the waves. And where is Jesus? Taking a nap on some cushions in the back. So I suppose one answer to the question “who is Jesus through the disciples’ eyes?” would be: he’s an extremely sound sleeper! (To each is given gifts, and the ability to sleep through anything has never been one of mine, so already I’m impressed.)
More importantly, though, once they wake Jesus up, the disciples find him to be unflappable in the face of this big storm. They’re all terrified, as water pours over the bow and the oars aren’t getting them anywhere against the force of the waves, but he’s not a bit worried. He exudes calm under pressure, I suppose you could say. Or does he perhaps know something they don’t know?
We soon find that he does, when he commands the wind and the waves to stop…and they do! And I love the way the story is told there. The text says he “rebukes” the wind and tells the sea: “Peace! Be still!” In other words: “Cut it out, guys! Settle down!” Amazingly enough (amazing, that is, from the disciples’ perspective), that does the trick. We who have the benefit of the whole story know this is because Jesus is one with the God of creation, who spoke the whole earth into being, creating light from darkness and with his words forming the sea and the dry land. Knowing just what to say to quiet a storm would be well within his skill set. And sure enough, like obedient children heeding a parent’s instructions, the wind and the waves return to a dead calm.
This particular miracle at sea will be just one of many times when Jesus shows himself able to control the natural world in unexpected ways. But here already, in Mark 4, we’re adding “superhero” to the list of ways the boys in the boat now see Jesus. Able to calm a storm simply by having a word with the wind and the waves? What fishermen wouldn’twant this guy on their team?
Jesus challenges the disciples here too, asking them why they were so afraid. “Have you still no faith?” But how should we hear his tone of voice when he makes comments like these? Given what’s just happened, I wonder if he asked the question in playful, teasing way to the poor, wind-battered bunch, perhaps trying to get them to crack a smile as they recovered from their terrifying ordeal. Perhaps gently inviting them to gain a bit more confidence in his power, a bit more trust in his ability to take care of them with each act of grace and protection they witnessed. As if to say: when I’m your travelling companion, don’t worry, a few waves aren’t going to get in our way. The story concludes with the disciples wondering, awe-struck: “who isthis man?”
Perhaps not surprisingly, there were lessons they needed to learn more than once, so when we flip ahead to chapter 6, we’ll find the same boys out in a boat once again. This time Jesus has gone off by himself to pray, so it’s just his posse making their way through the water, minus Jesus as their superhero travel insurance policy. (Even a superhero needs to recharge now and then.) Once he’s finished praying, Jesus notices they’re having a rough go of it - the text says he sees them “straining at the oars against an adverse wind” – but he doesn’t seem inclined to intervene at first. He’s just minding his own business walking by them on the sea while they struggle … you know, walking by… on the sea… as one does… It’s no wonder they thought he was a ghost. Your average rabbi doesn’t walk by you, as you’re rowing your boat across a lake. But here again, Jesus offers comforting words. It’s ok guys, don’t be scared, it’s just me. And notice his calming presence too. In this case he doesn’t even “rebuke” the elements. He just quietly gets in the boat with his friends, and the wind stops, and their jaws drop. Again, marveling at his power: how’d he dothat?
Many of us have a special place in our hearts for the twelve disciples because it’s so easy to see ourselves in them. When they’re confused or astounded by Jesus, we often are too. When they have a bit of trouble with things like faith and trust, heaven knows we can too. But even when they were fearful, even when there were big gaps in their understanding of what Jesus was about, they clearly saw enough in him to realize what a gift it was that he had called them.
Thank God they did. Because fromthem we learn so much about Jesus. We also learn that following him doesn’t mean we’ll always understand everything he’s trying to teach us, nor does it mean we’ll always have smooth sailing. We’re likely, too, to find ourselves mystified at times by the way God works in the world. We’re likely, too, to find ourselves in tough situations now and then, rowing against the wind, maybe even fearful for our lives. We can relate!
But the best news of all is that this Jesus, God incarnate, whom those first disciples saw with their own eyes – he’s the very same One who reaches out to us today. Hecomesto us, findsus, inviting us to follow him. He knows us intimately, knows how to connect with us, calls forth our gifts and skills and invites us to put them to work for God’s kingdom. What’s more, the storms we will inevitably face in this life are no match for his power. While it may feel sometimes like he’s dozed off at a particularly scary moment (Lord, please wake up and give us some help down here!), the fact is he’s there with us, in our boat all along, or walking right alongside us through the waves. And with all that mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, storm-stopping, water-walking power at his disposal, get this: He’s eager for usto join him on his mission.
So I guess the only question that remains is: how do we respond when Jesus shows up?
Whether in any given moment he’s asking us to drop our nets and set off in a new direction, or encouraging us to have a bit more faith in his power, or sticking close by us as we row against the wind, we’d do well to look to the boys in the boat and recognize their captain, their Lord, as our own.
Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
Before I dive into our texts this morning, let’s try a quick word association. What comes to mind when I say the word family? … [Thank you. We’ll circle back to this in a few minutes.]
Meanwhile, welcome to the New Year and to a new sermon series. Each year I try to approach the gospels from a slightly different angle, and this year I thought it would be interesting to consider how a variety of different characters would have seen Jesus. In other words, we’ll be spending the next several weeks trying to see Jesus again through their eyes, particularly in the gospel of Mark.
Mark opens his story with Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist. Elizabeth and Zechariah’s boy, we just read about him on Christmas Eve over in the gospel of Luke. There he was said to be leaping around in utero, excited by the news of Aunt Mary’s pregnancy, and the birth of the promised Savior Jesus. I’d love to know if the two boys saw anything of each other later on during their childhood years, given that they were relatives and quite close in age (Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus having overlapped with Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John). We’re not given that part of their story. And here in Mark, we only meet John as an adult.
But perhaps this makes sense, given that Mark’s is a cut-to-the-chase kind of story. The shortest of the gospels, things move along here at a brisk clip. I remember learning in seminary how fond this gospel author is of the word “immediately,” and once that’s pointed out to you, you do start to notice it everywhere as you read through Mark.
One of the things this means is that Mark’s gospel opens differently from the other three. It’s no accident that we read from Matthew, Luke, and John on Christmas Eve, and not from Mark, because Mark doesn’t bother with Jesus’ birth at all. He dives right into his adult ministry, with just this brief story of John the Baptist by way of introduction. John’s “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” out there in the wilderness, wearing clothing distinctive enough to rate a mention (not many wardrobe choices are going to make the cut in Mark’s gospel, at the narrative pace he keeps). And apparently he’s got quite a following. “People from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” are turning up to hear John, and to be baptized.
But who is Jesus, through John’s eyes? We don’t have a whole lot to go on, but John tells us this much: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:7-8) So John knew, at the very least, that he was only the opening act; Jesus would be the main event. He also knew Jesus was more powerful than he, better connected somehow to God’s Holy Spirit, and that he was so worthy, so impressive, that in comparison John himself was but a servant, someone who should bow in Jesus’ presence. As introductions go, that sets the bar pretty high, doesn’t it? We haven’t even met Jesus yet, and John’s already prepared us for greatness.
This is confirmed by the baptism scene that – yes, immediately - follows in verses 9-11. Fairly sparse in detail, we’re simply told Jesus came, too, to be baptized in the wilderness by John, and while Mark doesn’t tell us what Johnwas thinking at that moment, we do get a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Jesus and John. Whether the two boys ever got to play together or connect at family reunions growing up, we’ll never know. From Luke we know they were related and that their moms had been friends since before they were born. But here in Mark? Mostly we find John’s conviction that cousin Jesus is a far greater man than he, that he is well worth waiting for, that he is deeply in touch with God’s Holy Spirit, that Jesus is the main event.
Sticking with family perceptions in Mark today, it’s just two chapters later that we meet Jesus’ mother and brothers. Since his baptism, Jesus has been busily preaching the good news God’s kingdom all over Galilee, and calling the first disciples to follow him, and healing a great many people. Word’s getting around, so perhaps it’s not surprising that when his family turns up to see him one day, they find a crowd. Mom and brothers can’t even get into the house easily there are so many people there; instead they send word to Jesus throughthe crowd that they have arrived.
As I read this text again this week, I thought back on all the sermons I’ve heard over the years about Jesus dissing his family here: ignoring, dismissing, or outright rejecting them. Whether preachers highlight this (see how much more important his mission was even than his family), or lament it (can’t his mom have even a minute of his time?); either way, the assumption seems to be that in identifying others gathered around asfamily, Jesus entirely discounted his nuclear family. As if it were a zero-sum game: “they’re in” means “you’re out.”
Admittedly, there’s a gap in the narrative here. It would help if Mark answered our burning question: did Jesus invite his mother and brothers into the house or not, after making this statement about all those other folks being his family? Because surely if anyone had a right to cut in line to see this famous Jesus of Nazareth it should be the woman who carried and swaddled and fed the boy!
But notice, the text doesn’t actually say he dismissed his mother and brothers without letting them in to say hello. It leaves that detail out entirely. Which leads me to think this wasn’t the point Mark was trying to make.
Maybe it’s because we spent so much time with Jesus’ parables last year, but I read the story this time as an example of Jesus using every object lesson at his disposal to convey what the kingdom of God is like. He’d be walking along and see a farmer sowing seed, or a fisherman casting a net, or a woman baking bread, and right on the spot he’d come up with these little lessons for his disciples. To what can I compare the kingdom of God? It’s like the seeds that farmer is scattering… it’s like that net bursting with fish… it’s like the yeast in that bread.
What if that’s all that’s happening here too? Jesus is already teaching about God’s kingdom, and someone gets word to him through the crowd that his mom and brothers have just arrived. Why wouldn’the seize the opportunity to teach them yet another significant truth about the kingdom of God? Why notsay: “See my mother? See my brothers? You too are my mother and my brothers and sisters, if you stick close to God and try to do his will; we’re all one family in God’s eyes.” I don’t think we need to conclude he dismissed his own family members. He may simply have wanted to make clear that “family” is something far bigger than the nuclear unit of the Josephsons, if you will, from Nazareth.
We certainly like to invoke that broader definition of family around here. I can’t tell you the number of times, when I invite church members to describe this congregation to newcomers, that the word “family” comes up. Naturally we value our own smaller family units too. But I’m so pleased that the children of this church know you all are part of their extended family, and I know how much you enjoy having them as part of yours. Our Magnolia Presbyterian family includes friendships many decades long, and brotherhoods and sisterhoods that have begun quite recently but are no less meaningful for their newness. We celebrate regularly the tremendous gift it is to broaden the term “family” to include our whole congregation, not just those in our respective households, or those with whom we shared Christmas dinner this year.
This is why it surprised me to hear from a fellow pastor awhile back that she steered well clear of the word “family” in talking about her congregation, and strongly discouraged others from using the term too. Why, I wondered, did she feel “family” was such a dangerous word?
I suppose it depends on what the term “family” calls to mind. If it’s an exclusive, inhospitable, we-only-have-so-many-chairs-around-the-table sentiment, or an only-a-certain-type-of-person-need-apply kind of thing, then certainly we wouldn’t want the church to be that.
But let’s return to your word associations you shared at the beginning. When you speak of family, you use words like:
and ‘tree,’ as in those wonderful intergenerational connections through the years in a family tree, which we have here in a sense at church as well
I think about the way I was raised by my own parents, too. They were forever inviting people to join us for lunch after church, inviting international students into our home, keeping their eyes peeled for newcomers to their workplaces and their neighborhood so they could help them feel welcome. If “family” means “just us and no one else,” then my colleague was right and we have no business using that term about the church of Jesus Christ. But if “family” means “the more, the merrier, and let’s be sure everyone we meetfeels equally important and included” … if we keep on widening our understanding of “us” and making sure everyone feels welcome around the table, then it seems to me we can use the term freely. We just can’t get complacent about it, for we’ll find Jesus pushes us to extend our understanding of brothers and sisters well beyond this congregational comfort zone.
Returning to our text, in the absence of evidence one way or the other, I suppose we could argue all day about whether or not Jesus invited his mom and his brothers into the house at the end of this episode in Mark 3, and spent time catching up with them. I’d like to think he did. What does seem clear is that as a lover of object lessons, Jesus seized upon a teachable moment to say something about the breadth and width of God’s family. That family visit provided a perfect opportunity to tell those crowding around him – including, no doubt, many who were hungry and poor, many with diseased bodies or broken bones or broken spirits who wouldn’t be welcomed into other families – that they were absolutelyincluded in the family of God.
Meanwhile, I guess I want to give Jesus some credit for respecting his mama. And while we’re at it, I want to give his mama far more credit than she’s given in some interpretations too. Who are we to assume she was disappointed in Jesus’ remark here? After all, some of us heard Mary’s own words here on Christmas Eve, that amazing song she sang in Luke 1 when she’d just learned she was carrying the Son of God. The angel Gabriel told her nothing was impossible for God, and what did she sing about in response? She sang about God reversing completely the way humans tend to value one another. No longer will the rich and powerful have it made, she sang. Instead, God is busy lifting up the lowly, and filling the hungry with good things. I wonder if her song became a family favorite. If so, what a beautiful vision of God’s kingdom this eloquent prophet may have taught her young son Jesus as he grew.
Even if Mary found it hard at times to share her remarkable boy with the crowds that followed him, I like to believe that when turned up for a visit and found him offering this lesson about the family of God, she recognized echoes of a song she’d been singing him since before he was born.
If Jesus through cousin John’s eyes was great and powerful and holy, we have every reason to expect that Jesus through his mother Mary’s eyes was her pride and joy. Throughout his ministry, she would watch him widening the circle, eliminating the margins, redefining who was welcome and included in God’s family.
We don’t know if Mary heard with her own ears Jesus saying his family included every hungry, broken, or unloved person crowding around him: “here are my mother and my brothers.” I suspect the crowd at least got that word back to her. And sure, it requires a bit of holy imagination to see her facial expression in that moment, or otherwise to catch her reaction, since the text doesn’t record it for us.
But rather than causing her to worry Jesus didn’t love heranymore (let’s give them both more credit than that), when I think about seeing Jesus here through Mary’s eyes, I imagine her smiling as he referred to all those others as family too. I even wonder if she said to herself with a bit of pride, “He remembered our song! Well said, son. Well said.”