By Seminarian Jean-Pierre Seguin on the Third Sunday after Pentecost:
Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp5_RCL.html (Track 2)
I come before you today in the Name ✠ of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus forms a family. Faced by strong challenges from both the Pharisees and the Herodians, as well as the reasonable concerns of His family for His safety, He does something amazing, something that no one else there predicted. He could have given in to the demands of the Pharisees and promised to strictly follow their interpretation of the law. He could have promised the Herodians who followed the client leaders of Palestine to make waves politically. He could, at the very least, have met with His worried family who loved Him and were concerned that so many powerful out-of-town groups were coming for their son and brother.
Instead, Jesus answers those who lodged unfounded, fearful accusations against Him by doing something unanticipated. He calls all those hearing Him into relationships of mutual care. He establishes kinship between a crowd, people who perhaps were neighbors. Last Sunday, we heard about Jesus healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. In its own way, Jesus’ establishment of a new family is also astounding. The text does not state it explicitly, but I imagine that the crowd felt both excitement at Jesus’ healing and teaching, as well as fear that He would be dragged before the authorities. The arrival of His mother and brothers gives Him a chance to express these concerns. Mark has already told us that Jesus’ popular and provocative teaching ministry shocks His family. However, He won’t back down. He takes the bold step of renewing a fractured community, as He had earlier healed a man’s withered hand. He calls His followers from fear into renewed obedience to God and relationship with neighbor.
This brings us to the Garden. The reading from Genesis tells us of the roots of our humanity. In that narrative, the first humans are given a garden to live in, with a simple rule to follow: they can eat of any fruit in the garden, except the one of the knowledge of good and evil. We just heard about their fear when God approaches after they have eaten from the very tree that will lead to their expulsion from paradise. It is possible to take issue with this story on grounds of sexism, and there is no denying that it was told, retold, and recorded in a patriarchal culture; however, it’s also notable that it is Adam, the man, who quickly blames the woman. She gives a much more straightforward answer to God. In response, God first punishes the serpent. Despite the man’s attempt to distance himself from the infraction, both suffer the consequences, since both ate from the fruit. We could also note that this Scriptural conversation succinctly describes the injury and brokenness of misogyny, currently documented through the #MeToo movement. And while this passage has been used in misogynistic ways, some interpreters believe that, given humanity’s curiosity, what we call the fall was near inevitable. We witness here what happens when humans forget the essentials of our existence in favor of other, apparently better, goals.
In comparing the reading from Genesis and Mark, there’s a shared emphasis on relationship and accountability. God is the one who calls us into community, and when we break community through petty, self-serving fights, God calls us back. When the man and woman disobey in the Garden, they must leave, but God gives them another home. This by no means indicates that we have a free license to hurt each other, but it does mean that God understands our shortcomings and is continually willing to work with us. We cannot escape the reality that God has made us radically social creatures. We are formed for community, and in the Gospel we see Jesus take a crowd and call it to be a family. We don’t have to look very far to see that in our society there are still too many desperate crowds and too few caring families. Too many Pharisees and Herodians trying to save themselves by turning to legalism or a security of closeness to earthly powers.
In my short time here, I’ve seen both Baltimore’s beauty as well as its brokenness. Here, the privileged ride the bus for free, while the poor must pay. A top-notch hospital flourishes by exploiting the residents of the poor, racialized neighborhoods around it. Gustavo Gutierrez, the founder of liberation theology, defines poverty as an early death, and it is reprehensible that those with insurance are cured while the abandoned and over-policed poor are offered help only if they accept a minimum wage job. This neighborhood itself witnesses to the Herodian transformation that allows a few to prosper, while desperate crowds are left to fight over very little. Formerly working-class homes are transformed into chic dwellings for well-educated downtown workers. Since we, in faith, follow those who know the difference between good and evil, and know Christ’s call to love God and neighbor, we have work to do. This work will involve getting to know our neighbors and making common community with all. Advent’s choice to maintain senior housing rather than construct luxury apartments speaks to the ways his parish already witnesses to this Gospel imperative.
Today’s Gospel can lead us to wonder what it might look like to live as a human family. Some of us have different experiences with family than others. Here, Jesus gives us an interesting example of spiritual family by calling those who do God’s will his family. This leads me to reflect on mission, mission of the Gospel. I believe that God’s mission to us is Christ, and in Christ we are called to live lives of faith and discipleship in service to others. A professor of mine who studies mission calls the church away from examples of mission that support patronizing acts or cultural superiority towards communities, projects, and witness where all communities, all cultures, and all people are brought together through the power of Christ. When Presiding Bishop Curry speaks repeatedly of the Jesus movement, I think this is what he’s getting at. We need time for work and time for rest, but our communities of faith must live out the Gospel.
We have a choice. We can follow God in courageous love or tear each other apart in fear. In big and small ways, when confronted by evil and fear, let us choose love. Let us seek relationship. Let’s sit at the feet of our teacher, savior and Lord; hear the gospel message, and get up, ready for the life-giving work of building community. Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, this protects us from being tricked by hate and fear and can lead us to a closer connection to God and each other. This is work for which we were created, and God equips us every day to carry it out. Amen.