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Dr. John Lee
THE TENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR B 2018
Our readings at today’s Mass present us with the detail of the historical life of Jesus which is the most painful. St Mark (3:6) says that the family thought he was out of his mind. In our passage they come to him asking for an audience while he is talking to the crowds. Mark obviously was not there. He reports what he had received. He agrees with what we find in all the other data in the New Testament that Jesus was misunderstood even in his own home. Our picture of the holy family may be affected by artists depicting its members with haloes around their heads and light around their persons. But the scripture texts are far more realistic. He left home and asked others to leave their homes to follow him. He told them that in their families they would suffer for their decision. The people who opted for him he called his family: my mother and my brothers and my sisters. This did not mean his rejection of his actual family, though they might have thought he was mentally ill.
In every normal family the human tensions and sorrows of humanity are played out. Is this another consequence of original sin which is described in our reading from Genesis today? Here is blamed the serpent and the woman and eventually the man. From our point of view it hardly matters who specifically was responsible since all were responsible. And indeed all are still responsible. Unfortunately even the main biblical tradition has laid most of the blame on women…as though they were responsible for being women. But most of the horrors recorded in the bible were produced by men, and there is no effort to disguise the fact. Original sin is the doctrine that maintains that we are all warped, without exception. Our basic tendency is to be selfish; if we cannot achieve our aims by physical violence we have a variety of other means to get our way. We get things wrong so frequently.
Sometimes family breakups are clearly due to the deportment of one or other partner, and often of both. How often extreme heroism is attested in the way spouses manage their difficulties, because they know that to break up will have a terrible effect upon their children. But we also know too well that if they stayed together this too could have a dreadful effect on the children. We all have to make choices. We are blessed when our parents back our good choices. Without their support we make a lonely journey. This seems to be what happened in the family of Jesus, and how refreshing that the evangelists recorded it.
The New Family of Jesus
We are the new family of Jesus. We come here Sunday by Sunday and pray together at Mass. We confess and regret our sins as brothers and sisters. We greet each other with a sign of peace. We make every gesture during our Mass to relate with each other as civilised human beings. We share the same chalice. We acknowledge the same sense of responsibility for everything that happens in our world, and we regret together everything that we have been responsible for perpetrating. We want peace, we want love, we want strength to face the daily obstacles that would obviate us meeting and praying with each other. In our prayers of intercession we pray for governments and civil and social communities, and for every aspect of life that would honour what it is to be a decent caring committed member of the little local community we belong to. But our gaze goes way beyond this; we look out on the big world all the time. Nor do we neglect memory. We look back and recall all the good and the bad that has played a part in our personal and communal lives.
When we listen to these New Testament texts we are being invited to see the realism of our own lives. Where do we find our greatest joy and where our greatest sorrows? Unless we are exceptionally privileged we will acknowledge that our lives have not been and are not a bowl of cherries. When we know each other well enough to speak to each other truthfully and honestly we know that there is little room for any sense of superiority as we compare our families with each other. Life is a mix of joy and heartbreak. How often we encounter personal difficulties, failing our own standards, family standards and community standards. Yet we yearn for happiness. We are back in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. What a journey the bible made from there to the Resurrection of Jesus! A vale of tears. Exile after exile, a tale of external and internal strife. The prophets blamed internal strife far more than they blamed the imperial powers that invaded Israel so often and destroyed it so completely. How little from the lips of Jesus do we hear denunciation of the imperial powers. How little from St Paul is blame laid at the hands of pagans for the failures in love among the converted communities. There is always a massive weight of responsibility on individuals. Conscience is individual. The love commitment is individual. Institutions do not break their hearts in regret for greed and selfishness. Secular institutions have no collective heart or mind to weep for the exploitation they engender. Only individuals can say I love you, I weep for you, I am terribly sorry for the way I treated you. Can all the members of a family express themselves thus regarding each other? Is it not true that in our own families we experience the greatest joys as well as the greatest sorrows?- because the family is the home of love.
In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say: Who are my mother and my brothers?...And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.” Nothing like this had ever been said before. To accept it is to share in the peace that surpasses all understanding-that is certainly one powerful reason for coming to Mass. A happy Sunday to you all.
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Spiritual Advisor, MaterCare.
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK