Pentecost 2B: The Alternative Family as Racism’s Cure

Readings for the Second Sunday After Pentecost or Proper 5

Old Testament      Genesis 3:8–15

Psalm                    Psalm 130

New Testament     2 Corinthians 4:13–5:1

Gospel                   Mark 3:20–35

Let’s focus on the Gospel reading. Jesus goes home. He learns that his neighbors think he’s crazy. His own mother and brothers think the same, and they want to take control of Jesus and end this family embarrassment.

Jesus doesn’t take it lying down. First he charges that those who are scandalized by him lack imagination. They are not open to God’s Spirit that is moving him.

A crowd forms. These are people who want to give Jesus a chance to prove himself. They want to learn, and they draw tightly around this charismatic man. Someone alerts Jesus that his family is outside this tight circle asking for him to come out so they can take him away. Jesus says, “Who are my mother and my brothers? You are–you who have come to listen. Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Family forms ethnicity. Biological family is at the heart of racism. From time immemorial people have thought our birth determines everything important: our intelligence, our morality, our value, our base of all operations. Even charity begins at home—and usually ends there.

This time of pandemic our eyes have been opened to how destructive this idea can be. Someone turned over the rock, and racism, in so many rude and overwhelming ways, has squirmed out. This week we commemorate the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which most of us didn’t even know happened until recently. This past year rampant police abuse of people of color blipped like crazy on our radar, if we cared to notice. Suddenly we became aware of the extent of redlining.  And the ways Blacks are punished for their choice of hair styles. And the systematic prevention of Black farmers from benefiting from farm loans and subsidies. And the way major cosmetic companies make millions off of skin lightening products. Etc. Etc.

All this waking up has given us headaches. At the slightest hint of the need to repent of these blatant acts of racism, or to correct the systems that perpetuate them, or to allow vulnerable minorities to come to the table of power by making it easier to vote when they work two jobs, hackles are raised. Just enough people take umbrage and offense, and shoot all these efforts down. We hate being made to care for such a wide swath of people when its family that really matters.

What are we to do? What can move us past our kneejerk defensiveness? What can move us, as human beings, beyond our habit of making birth, family, and ethnicity into walls of separation and rigid reasons for oppression and the toleration of it?

Only a new way of defining family. Jesus, in the third chapter of John, says to Nicodemus, “You need a new kind of birth and family. No, you are not made fit for God’s Kingdom by virtue of your biological birth. You must be born from above.”

And here in our reading from Mark we are radically charged to reconsider family and ethnicity. Even the “holy family,” at one point at least, thought son and brother Jesus too radical—even nuts. In reply, Jesus says, “Here is the family that matters: Those who are willing to listen, to change, and to actually follow God’s will, are the New Family for God’s New Age.”

Diversity, multiculturalism, inclusion, and tolerance, are wonderful values. But they aren’t enough to break down our walls of resentfulness. We must do as the New Testament does and develop feelings for this alternative family for a new age. Diversity for its own sake looks like a naïve way of claiming nothing matters. Inclusion for its own sake leaves us with nothing in racism’s place–nothing to bring us unity and meaning and purpose in our diversity.

The Apostle Paul’s letters call believers “brothers.” We rightly see that as inclusive of brothers and sisters. All are family—but family of a God who gathers and doesn’t scatter.

I personally love the idea that we say, “All are welcome” to our church and our worship. But we gather tight when we understand that our family consists of those who do the will of God—and the will of God is that we love one another, despite ethnicity or anything else—that we love one another as God, in Christ, has loved us.


About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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