Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




Let’s Do Focus on the Family

Sunday, May 8, 2005



Mark 3: 31-35



  Rev. Dean Snyder

Dean Snyder, Senior Minister, is a preacher, writer and activist who coordinates a talented ministerial and lay staff. He has previously served congregations in Philadelphia as well as a director of communications, editor, specialist in congregational development and new church starts, campus minister and college instructor. A graduate of Boston University School of Theology and Albright College, his articles have appeared in dozens of publications.


Several weeks ago I got a note from one of our Sunday school teachers. The children in the Sunday school class had been studying the story in the Gospel of John of the wedding at Cana of Galilee. In the story, Jesus and his disciples and his mother, Mary, attend the wedding. They run out of wine and Mary mentions to Jesus the fact that they have run out of wine at the wedding. Jesus answers Mary by saying: “Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4 RSV) The Sunday school teacher’s note said that the children in the Sunday school class wanted to ask me how it was that Jesus would speak this way to his mother, saying: “Woman, what have you to do with me?”


Uh oh.


I cleared off my desk. I piled up all the commentaries about the Gospel of John that I could find and started reading. The commentaries had many theories and rationalizations for what Jesus said to his mother. I passed a few of them on to the Sunday school teacher, but I was left, in my heart of hearts, with the conviction that our precocious Sunday school children were not all wrong. There was something of an edge, or at least a limit-setting boundary, in the way Jesus responded to his mother.


In fact, if you read the Gospel with fresh eyes, it seems pretty clear that Jesus’ relationship to his family was not always cozy. It began already very early in the second chapter of Luke when Jesus was 12 years old. Jesus and his mother and father went to Jerusalem to celebrate the holidays. Jesus, without telling his parents where he was going, disappeared for three days. Twelve-year-old Jesus disappeared for three days. He was hanging out having conversations with the rabbis, but his parents did not know where he was for three days. After they finally found him after a lot of searching, Mary said to him: “Child, how could it be that you would treat us, your parents, this way?” Jesus said: “Don’t you know that I must be in my Father’s (capital “F”) house?” (Luke 2: 41-51)


Every time I read that story I think: what if I had disappeared from my home for three days, when I was 12? When my parents found me and asked me what I was up to, if I had said to them: “Well, I was where God wanted me to be.” I suspect my mother would have had an opinion where she thought God had wanted me to be.


Jesus, if you read the Gospels with new and fresh eyes, Jesus had some pretty amazing things to say about families:


  • “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)


  • “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37)


  • “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household.” (Matthew 10:35-36)


Then there is our lesson for the morning from Mark 3, but the same story also appears in Matthew 12 and Luke 8, meaning that it is a very important story in the minds of the early Church because it is a story repeated in all three of the synoptic gospels, the three first gospels. Jesus had begun his teaching, preaching and healing ministry when his family, his mother and brothers and sisters, came to get him. Jesus was teaching in a crowded room. They couldn’t get physically to him, so they sent a message across the room. Someone interrupts Jesus’ teaching to tell him: “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” Jesus points to those who are in the room listening to him teach and says: “Here are my mothers and my brothers and sisters. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”


We live in a time when “family values” and “pro-family” have become partisan political terms. By talking about family values and being pro-family, some folk obviously are suggesting that there are others of us who are somehow in favor of non-family values or who are anti-family. Those who talk about family values and being pro-family often promote their agenda on the basis of their Christian faith.


So, if we as Christians are going to talk about family values and to use it as a political slogan, it might be good to know what Jesus had to say about families. This is what I think is clear about what Jesus had to say about families. For Jesus, family was not primarily a matter of biological relationship, but of missional commitment. For Jesus, family is about shared mission rather than about blood ties.


  • “Who is my family?”


  • “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”


This understanding of family on Jesus’ part is made clear from another example from the Gospel of Luke, in addition to the others I have already mentioned.


In Luke 18, a rich young ruler comes to Jesus to ask how he might inherit eternal life. Jesus makes some suggestions, but that’s not enough for the rich ruler. He keeps pushing. Jesus said to him: “If you truly want eternal life, sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.” This was not the final answer that the ruler wanted to hear because he was very rich and could not stand the idea of giving up his possessions. So, he went away sad. 


After he went away, Peter turns to Jesus and says: “What about us? We have done it. We have given up our homes and our families and everything we have to follow you.” Jesus says to Peter: “Truly I tell you, no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 29-30)


When that same saying of Jesus appears in the 10th Chapter of Mark, Jesus is even more specific. He says: "There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundred times more now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions – and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10-29-30)


Family is shaped around shared community, committed to shared mission rather than biology or genes or blood. For Jesus, it is not biological ties that make us family but the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. So, if someone loses family for the sake of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God, Jesus is saying in this lifetime, through the church, you will find that for every parent you lose, you will have a hundred parents. For every brother or sister, you will have a hundred new brothers and sisters. For everything you give up, you will inherit a new family in this life and in the life to come, eternity. Family is shaped for Jesus around shared commitment and mission rather than mere biology.


In Christian terms, it would seem to me, if we listen to Jesus, those who say that they want to protect the family, the biological family, the traditional family, would seem to be the ones who are anti-Jesus’ understanding of family and Jesus’ family values. What makes our biological and adopted families significant is that we are units of the mission of God. It is less about blood and biology than it is about that this, too, is a way we serve God by the way we love and care for our families.


The most poignant expression of this, I think, is Jesus on the cross. When Jesus is on the cross, he looks down and he sees his biological mother, Mary, standing there. And he sees his beloved disciple, John. And he says to Mary: “Mary, behold John over here. He is now your son.”  Then he says to the disciple, "John, take a look at Mary over here. She is now your mother.” From that day on, Mary moved into John’s home. They cared for one another. They became a family, not because they were related by blood, but because they had shared need and could meet one another’s need as part of their missional service to God. (John 19: 26-27)


I know this is true. When I lost my mother, there was a time in my life, in my grief, that I needed mothering. The church of Jesus Christ provided me with a mother. The church of Jesus Christ has given me brothers and sisters and persons to whom I can be brother. The church of Jesus Christ has given me children to love and children who have loved me like a parent.


Jesus expands our understanding of family. Our children are not just the children born to us biologically or adopted by us. Our children are all children who need our love. The children who are born to us or adopted by us we love and care for not merely because they are part of us, but because they are part of God and because it is part of our mission to serve Christ by loving and caring for them and by doing everything we can to raise them to be well and healthy.


If blood and biological ties are turned into the most important thing, it is very dangerous.  Blut und Boden – blood and soil – was a Nazi theme: the idea that what gives us a sense of community and belonging to one another is physiological and biological relationships and nationality. This is far from the teachings of Jesus, who taught that we are brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters of one another.


Today we honor every mother. What I want to say is that we honor everyone who has cared for us like a mother, some of whom may not necessarily even be women. There are people who have cared for us like a mother who are not necessarily been women. We honor every father, sister, brother – not just those with whom we have blood ties, but everyone who has truly been a father, sister, brother to us.


“Who are my mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers?” Jesus asks. Well, they are people of every race and nationality and continent and religion and gender and sexual orientation. They are people who need me and whom I need. They are people who share a common vision of a human family feasting together at God’s heavenly table – God who is our heavenly parent and therefore makes us all brothers and sisters with one another. These are my mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers.


And it is those, I think, who manage to love both the families given to us by birth or adoption and the families given to us by the grace of God, it is those of us who manage to love beyond the limits of biology and blood who are truly pro-family, living out Jesus’ family values.