Father Nicholas Lang
Second Sunday After Pentecost
In the opening verses of today’s reading, Jesus has returned home to Nazareth for a time of respite from the crowds that press upon him and his disciples to the extent that they don’t even have time to eat. Unable for some to comprehend his activities, and perhaps concerned by the unfavorable attention they might draw from the religious and political authorities, some of his relatives even sought to restrain him.
Did you hear it? “He’s out of his mind!” That’s what his family and friends say about Jesus in the Gospel we read today. In the original Greek, the word used was existemi – εξιϭτεμι. “He’s crazy. Off his rocker.” Jesus is back in the old neighborhood and his family wants to be proud of this young, articulate rabbi. To their chagrin, they are embarrassed by the reaction of the crowds who shout: “Existemi! He is out of his mind!”
That’s what happens when Jesus proclaims a very different sort of reality, one that is counter to our expectations and to our cultural norms. In fact, Jesus is not only out of his mind, he is in another frame of reference: the Kingdom of God—a place, a system of values, an ethos, a set of assumptions, a way of conducting business that is counter to, and often in conflict with, the way we think the world works.
This story is also about how family can be divided and how division in the household can do great damage. Often, it is around money. Is there anyone here who is not at least remotely familiar with a situation where a loan or inheritance or will or monetary gift did not cause an uproar or a major rift in the family that lasted for years, perhaps never resolved? Money has a way of doing that better than most anything else. As does religion and politics. How many families have seen deep division because of differences in belief or political opinions?
June is Pride Month, a time to recognize the value and gift of human diversity especially as manifested in the lives of the LGBTQ community. I have a client in my practice whose 15-year-old daughter has recently come out of the closet. While her Mom is very supportive of her and her new relationship, her father has declared that he has disowned her, that he has no daughter. How many families have seen such pain because their gay children are demonized and even separated from family? The incidence of gay teen suicide is atrocious.
Jesus never said that who we love is a sin; only who we hate. He is not at all advocating division and conflict in families, but rather the unity and cohesion that ensues when we see others as God sees them, as God’s beloved children. Loving without reservation, embracing differences, respecting the dignity of every human being is doing the will of God and that is what makes us family—God’s own family.
A noteworthy verse in this passage is the reference to forgiveness and how broad and wide is God’s mercy towards us. A well-known Rabbi was about to preach on Yom Kippur, when Jews everywhere reflect on the past year, repent of their shortcomings and unkindness and hope for the forgiveness of God. He did not speak directly about God’s forgiveness.
Instead, he walked out into the congregation picked up his infant daughter from his wife and, carrying the child in his arms, stepped up to the podium.
The little girl was perhaps a year old and she was adorable. From her father’s arms she smiled at the congregation. Every heart melted. Turning toward her daddy, she patted him on the cheek with her tiny hands. He smiled fondly of her, and with his customary dignity began a rather traditional Yom Kippur sermon, talking about the meaning of the holiday.
The baby girl, feeling his attention shift away from her, reached and grabbed his nose. Gently he freed himself and continued the sermon. After a few minutes, she took his tie and put it in her mouth. Everyone chuckled. The rabbi rescued his tie and smiled at his child. Then, looking out over the top of her head, he said, “Think about it. It is there anything she can do that you could not forgive her for?”
Just then, she reached up and grabbed his eyeglasses. Everyone laughed out loud. Retrieving his glasses and settling them on his nose, the rabbi laughed as well. Still smiling, he waited for silence. When it came, he asked, “And when does that stop? When does it get hard to forgive?
At three? At seven? At fourteen? At thirty-five? How old does someone have to be before you forget that everyone is a child of God?”