June 9, 2024
Pentecost 3

Friends, please be seated. Listen to two pieces of Gospel.

“Then (Jesus’) mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and brothers?” And 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.” (Mark 3:31-35)  

Do you hear the sadness in Jesus’ voice?

(Jesus) … came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” (Mark 6:1-6a)  

Do you hear the sadness in Jesus’ voice?

The Gospel of Mark, our earliest canonical example of a Gospel, does not reveal a happy place for Jesus. The Gospel picks up with Jesus’ baptism. He’s all-grown up, he’s been working as a carpenter, and suddenly he’s ordained by God for God’s mission and adopted by God for ministry. Baptism was then, as now, a sort of ordination into God’s work in the world; and a kind of adoption into God’s family by a kinship-seeking God.

And in Mark’s Gospel, there’s not much back-story. “Isn’t this Mary’s kid, the carpenter, the one with all those brothers and sisters.” (A word about the phrase “son of Mary”. That’s not the way people were generally called. They were typically named in reference to their father. Son of Joseph, for example. But Joseph is strangely unremembered; unknow; un-respected in the Gospel of Mark). So that’s it. Jesus is greeted with disbelief but there is another, more disquieting undercurrent. Jesus’ own family is just not much interested in Jesus the holy man. They don’t care to participate in his adventures, and they don’t. There are only two family-scenes, in the whole of Gospel of Mark, and you just heard them both. Mary is mentioned just those two times and Joseph is never mentioned at all. Not exactly a tight family. And when Jesus is sent to the gallows, his family, his birth family, is nowhere to be seen. If you’re remembering that Mary was there, that not in the Gospel of Mark. You’re remembering because, in Holy Week, we read the Gospel of John. Every year. And so we’ve become immersed in John’s second-century world at the loss of Mark’s world and people who actually were alive in Jesus’ own time.

So Mark doesn’t recount the good ol’ days, two or three decades on. Old by a generation. But good? Not so much. Matthew and Luke will go on to borrow Mark’s Gospel. In fact, they’ll use it as a sort of scaffold for what they want to say. But it will all get a little varnished. Jesus is born in a manger where motherly affection and bovine warmth and adoring shepherds, not to mention heavenly choirs, who abide and abound. Oh, and then the Kings show up. And Jesus has a pedigree going all the way back to David. Even if it’s only by adoption. But even there, while his good name is used, Joseph fades from view while Mary is still in the picture; and when John writes another 15 or 20 years after Matthew and Luke, Mary and John will move in together for succor and support upon the death of Jesus, an alliance Jesus himself requests at the end of life. It’s lovely.

But our most ancient witness portrays a somewhat …embarrassed? …ashamed …dismissive? …cranky? …not much interested? …family. And there’s a bit of “he’s not really one of us” going on. It’s that sort of broken, or crack-in-it, family. Now, two things.

Thing One: I love the Gospel of Mark. It’s … raw. And raw feels so much more familiar than does the reframing of Luke or Matthew, much less John. Mark’s Gospel is both impressionist art and realist art. And Mark’s canvas is the real-world for me. (Digression: Six Nations-Acadian women.)

Thing two: I have the pedigree of one-eyed dogs and my mother says there was no warm and fuzzy visitation when I was born. No shepherds. No kings. Just some Newfy nurses; angels of a kind. And my father who was completely mystified by it all but exceedingly grateful. I share my father’s delight in gratitude.

When I read the Gospel of Mark, I get flashes of insight and connectedness with the world in here and the world out there. Glimpses of humanity and family. Families come in all shapes, sizes, colours and confusions, mystery and mess, and not … infrequently … with tiny and not-so-tiny cracks of hurt, uprootedness, and sometimes, even, distain or outright rejection. Some of you know what I mean.

My father was always my friend. But when I gave up math and economics to become a pastor, he intoned, in the presence of my mother and my brothers, “such a waste.”  It felt hurtful. But you know, he came to like hearing about my adventures. He was frequently astonished. And he kept a photograph of me in collar and academic hood where I was visibly happy with a great big grin. … He referred to the picture as the “the smiling priest.”

Priests were not of the smiling sort in his psyche and recollection. You see, his back-story was that as a young scholar he wrote against the church’s complicity with the regime of Maurice Duplésis, in Québec. Those were dark days. And he was excommunicated. Done with him. Late in his life, the church repented its nasty stupidity toward the young social muckrakers of years before, but he never went back. By then it was a bridge too far and the church was no longer his family. So sometimes it’s not just about us in the economy of family life and human frailty. The stories of our forebears bend and shape us, and bend and shape or even shatter family life, and it’s not always easy or pretty or uncomplicated.

One of my brothers rejected another brother, and the latter died and now it’s too late. Sometimes, things don’t get fixed. The cracks are forever telling. As a priest—or pastor—I’m afforded the privilege of glimpses into the family lives of some of you, my people. And the strings of the Gospel of Mark are strummed, sometimes, and there is sadness and there is the discerning of other mothers and siblings to serve as our adopters and our kin.

Now, I don’t want to have you leave here in a well of depression. SO, this. The late theologian Walter Wink wrote of the humanity of God. He had this to say: “God is HUMAN … It is the great error of humanity to believe that it is human. We are only fragmentarily human, fleetingly human, brokenly human. We see glimpses of our human-ness, (and) we can only dream-of what a more human existence … would be like … Only God is human, and we are made in God’s image and likeness — which is to say, we are capable of becoming human.”  — Walter Wink, Just Jesus, My Struggle to Become Human, p. 102.

I like “becoming” … the idea that Christians are always “becoming”, “becoming truly human in the image of God” … I like that. The future doesn’t have to be the past. And the past doesn’t have to govern the future. Put another way. There is more of God’s humanity in me than I know. And less. But I’m in really good company. And you and I can be the light to the cracks in everything, to borrow Leonard Cohen’s phrase and Preston’s image. And there will be glimpses of God’s humanity, where there is light. God goes with us.

And may you know that God goes with you.

There is pathos in the Gospel of Mark. And there is pathos woven, warp and woof, into the lives of God’s people. Some, more than others. While some are joyously and wonderfully unencumbered. Such are the vagaries of life.

And let the church say “Amen”. Amen.

André Lavergne CWA (The Rev.)
Honourary Assistant,
Church of St. John the Evangelist, Kitchener