2 Pentecost, Proper 5 – June 7, 2015
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” said Sun Tzu, the Chinese general and military strategist who lived six centuries before Christ.
“It is from their foes, not their friends, that cities learn the lesson of building high walls,” said the ancient Athenian playwright Aristophanes.
“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends,” said the 19th–century Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde.
A quick Google search for quotes about friends and foes yields over five million hits. These are just a few, and we could add many of our own. Who among us, for example, hasn’t at one time or another mused, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”
The truth is, our list of friends and foes changes from time to time. At times, it may be hard to tell one from the other. In our text for today, we see friends, family and foes of Jesus. These groups share a misunderstanding of both Jesus’ identity and his mission. In this text, Jesus also points to another group: his “real” family.
So why is Jesus getting so much flack?
We are just into the third chapter in Mark and already he’s got the crowds wondering about him, his family afraid for him (and maybe of him!), and the religious leaders against him. And all he’s done so far is announce the coming kingdom of God, call some disciples, cast out a demon or two, and heal a bunch of sick people.
Of course, one of those disciples was a tax collector, he cast out the demon and did much of his healing work on the Sabbath, and he wasn’t put off in the least when approached by a leper. Which means that his vision of the coming kingdom of God was rooted in a profound inclusivity that would let neither religious law nor social custom prevent him from reaching those in need with the abundant life he came to offer.
So what will Jesus answer to these charges? He seems to offer some help to alleviate the uproar when he picks up a theme with us from the beginning; the talk is about the “kingdom” and about who has authority and power. But as usual his words are in riddles.
“If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand”, Jesus says. These words call us to consider deeply just what is going on here — to rethink what the story of this Jesus might have to do with how we imagine our world and the ways of God with God’s creation. What is it that God is calling us to see and hear in this Jesus? Who is it that has the power to change our world, and how is that power going to be exercised in those of us who are called to journey along with this Jesus in this Pentecost Season?
You all know, it’s hard to live together.
There are divisions in our lives that we have swept under the rug and they wind up taking a toll on our lives. How we deal with divisions in our life, makes a difference. And perhaps what it comes down to is how we choose to deal with the truth. If we choose to allow the inevitability of division to dominate our way of being in the world, then what Jesus’ claims will indeed be our world — because who will be able to stand?
You see, there are people in our lives who seem to thrive on disagreement and division. There are churches, denominations, institutions that would rather find any and all potentiality for discord — to prove themselves right, to justify their own positions, beliefs — than to do the hard work of searching for avenues of possible agreement. As the people were saying about Jesus – “he has gone out of his mind”. We know these people. We know these churches. We know these communities. And they have the very real probability of the kind of destruction from which no recreation is possible. Because that is the issue, isn’t it? To seek paths and possibilities that lead to relationship means that the end result will be the hard work of relationship maintenance, as if reconciliation means disremembering.
Life after disagreement and reconciliation is not about forgetting. It is not about pretending that nothing ever happened. It is about letting go of the fact that the past can be changed, because the past cannot be changed, and choosing to live in the present reality that the relationship has changed. It can never go back to the way it was before. Yet, many would rather sever the ties altogether than live with the memory of ties that were broken. Many would rather abandon people and community for their own self-justification than to admit their own contributions to the problem. And many would rather stir up the proverbial pot than sense opportunities for kindness, graciousness, and gratitude.
The fact is, we are in a constant state of relational negotiation. The question is, how we choose to live in that state — to pretend that it does not exist or to recognize its constant existence; to ignore its difficulty or to search in that difficulty for love; to mourn its challenges or to accept its reality.
Yet, of course, there is the fact that sometimes, separation is the only way a house can remain standing. There are people who simply need to leave — or from whom you need to walk away. There are relationships for which the possibility of reconciliation is impossible. This is also the truth we have to be willing to name — to tell ourselves, to speak into our relationships – that the act of distancing, of self-differentiation, of disengagement is sometimes necessary. It is an act of courage so that you are able to stand.
So, back to living together and Jesus’ mission for that. Jesus asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” So, what do you make of that? On the surface, it seems like such a harsh thing to say. Did Jesus mean to reject his family altogether?
In his book, The New Being, theologian Paul Tillich points out the fact that Jesus did not say, “Those outside are not my mother and brothers.” In other words, he did not deny the relationship he had with his biological family; he merely expanded the family circle to include any number of others. He pointed to a spiritual, rather than a physical, kinship as the basis for life in the kingdom of God. Paul echoed Jesus’ sentiments when he wrote to the Romans, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God.” (Romans 8:14)
The implication is: If sons and daughters of God, then brothers and sisters of one another. This is where our relational work comes into being. This is what John Fawcett had in mind when he penned the words,
Blest be the tie that binds
our hearts in Christian love;
the fellowship of kindred minds
is like to that above.
The Spirit of God unites us as family in a bond of love able to withstand the storms of life and last throughout all eternity. It transcends the boundaries of age, race, nationality and gender. It encompasses folk from every station and walk of life.