2 Pentecost, Proper 5 – June 6, 2021
It is still early in Jesus’ ministry; but already, he has driven out unclean spirits, healed the sick, eaten with sinners, chosen his disciples when we come to today’s story. He has mesmerized every crowd he’s come into contact with, stirring up such hope, excitement, and yearning in people’s hearts that they just can’t leave him alone. So they follow him to Nazareth and pour into the house where he’s staying, pressing in so tight that Jesus can’t even eat.
But some are upset by this. Jesus’s family arrives on the scene, intending to stage an intervention. Mortified by the neighborhood rumors that Jesus has lost his mind, they stand outside the packed house and call for Jesus, hoping in vain to “restrain” him.
The scribes show up shortly and declare that Jesus is evil and a threat — not a benign healer empowered by God, but a fiend possessed by Beelzebub, “the ruler of the demons.”
Even though what Jesus was doing was not unusual for prophets and healers of his day, for some reason people didn’t know what to make of him. Religious authorities profoundly misunderstood him and the way he loved, calling him evil, unclean. His family is embarrassed; they want to pull him back from the spectacle they think he is making of himself, of them.
In other words, the people who should be able to figure Jesus out—his kin and the religious insiders—simply can’t. Or they won’t. What’s worse is they exhibit very little curiosity and even less willingness to dwell for a while in ambiguity. The religious authorities and his own relatives lack imagination.
Jesus replies to the double attacks by speaking about a house divided, and the need to dominate “the strong man” who runs the world. And then, looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
What is Jesus doing? And why does he do it so impolitely? Imagine if you are his kin? Maybe it has something to do with identity. Let’s go back to the scene. Outside the house stand the insiders — the family, the religious folk, the pious, the careful. They think they have God pinned down. They know what the Holy Spirit is supposed to look like, and Jesus doesn’t fit the bill. But, inside the house sit the outsiders — the misfits, the rejects, the tax collectors, the prostitutes. They’re not interested in dogma or piety; they just need love and they seem to have found it in a man who heals the sick and feeds the hungry. Smack in the center of the sick, the hungry, the unorthodox and the unwashed: well, there sits Jesus, saying, “This. This is my family.”
Jesus isn’t calling for surface change here; he’s dividing the house. He’s going for the deep, the institutional, and the systemic. Outside is in, and inside is out, and the people least likely to get it are the ones who consider themselves the most knowledgeable, the most “churchy,” and the most spiritually stable. It’s a bit uncomfortable. This passage is uncomfortable.
Last Sunday I talked about Nicodemus and how he “reserved the right to get smarter”. He was curious, he allowed himself to be uncomfortable, to have uncomfortable conversations. Throughout the biblical story he grew in faith and grace. Today’s story is another example of how it’s possible to “see the world one way, and then see something that changes everything we thought we believed.”
Think about Mary standing outside of the house as Jesus claims not her, but those who are sitting with him inside the house as his family. It may help to imagine that this moment of breakage and rupture costs Jesus something dear. He knows he is Mary’s son. He knows the agony of letting her go. But he knows that he’s God’s Son first, and that his divine identity must trump all others. At the same time, imagine what it must have felt like to be inside the house with Jesus that day – to be one of the misfits. Regardless of our circumstances, we probably all know what it’s like to yearn for someone who can hold all of who we are, and love us still, without flinching. That’s exactly what Jesus does for the crowd that day. He invites them in, he asks them to stay, and he makes them family.
Think about that this week. The outsiders became the insiders that day. Yes, Jesus divides the house, and that process hurts. But he doesn’t divide it to make us homeless. He divides it to rebuild it. To make it more spacious, more welcoming, and more beautiful. And I can’t help but think of racism and all of our other isms, and hope that we sincerely seek to tear down the divisions and to rebuild our house with the love of Christ. Because the Spirit of God is neither insane nor evil; the Spirit completes the good work she begins. Christ’s house will be a house of healing for the whole world.
Michael Kleber-Diggs teaches creative writing through the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop and at colleges and high schools in Minnesota. He recently published his first collection of poetry called Worldly Things.
I share a poem he recently wrote as a black man. It’s titled “Every Mourning” — “mourning” in that title is spelled m-o-u-r-n-i-n-g.
“Morning: walking my neighborhood, I come upon a colony
of ants busy at work. I take care not to step on any and miss
them all, then encounter up a ways a fellow traveler greeting
the day. I am frightening her. No. She is afraid of me.
Is she an introvert? Is she a neighbor? Is she just in from the ’burbs,
from the country? Is she scared of the inner city? Am I the inner city?
Is she racist? Shouldn’t I be the wary one? Or is she a survivor
like me? It can’t be what I’m wearing: khakis, a blue and white
checkered button-down shirt, and the nylon sandals I favor
because they’re comfortable, my feet can breathe in them.
Dear friends, I am the nicest man on earth.
And I want to shout, Morning! But just then a weaver or
carpenter, just then a pharaoh or fire of pavement, just
then a little black ant struggles by alone, alone. And
in that moment, I want us to give ourselves over
to industry, carry the weight of the day together, lighten
it. I want to be a part of a colony where I feel easy
walking around. Cool as the goddamn breeze. Where
I can breathe, build structures sturdier and grander
than this—but the woman crosses to the other side
of the street, and I do what I usually do: retreat into
myself as far as I can, then send out whatever’s left.”
And so, to Michael and all of us, imagine what it must have felt like to be inside the house with Jesus that day. To be named his family. To be held in our entirety, without flinching. Jesus is calling us. Calling us to rebuild our house with the power of the Holy Spirit because that kind of house is a house of healing for the whole world. Amen.