“Who are My Mother and Brothers and Sisters?”
Scripture – Mark 3:20-27, 31-35
Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Sunday, June 6, 2021

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Can you recall a time when you had to intervene in someone’s life? When children gets into a scuffle, parents step in to prevent things from getting out of hand. When a teenager’s grades begin to plummet, parents see if they can stop the downward cycle and help the youth climb out of the hole he is digging.

My sister and I intervened with our parents when it became obvious that living independently was no longer safe for them. When they were up in years, my father broke his ankle and it would not heal. About every two weeks, he would fall in their house and was unable to get up. Mom would struggle to help, but since Dad was a very large man, it was impossible to lift him. My sister lived more than 100 miles from them and I was more than a thousand, so we could not run over to assist.

Mom resorted to calling the local fire station for help and the firefighters would drive to their house and put Dad back on his feet.

When I discovered this was happening about every two weeks, I said to my parents, “You can’t keep calling the fire department every time dad falls.”

“Sure we can,” Dad cheerfully responded. “The firefighters said they were happy to do it and to call any time.”

His falling was not the only concern. Both of them were becoming very forgetful. Dad let it slip that Mom left a pan on a hot burner and nearly caused a fire. Thank goodness for smoke detectors.

It became obvious, that for our parents’ wellbeing, my sister and I had to intervene. Since she lived closer and provided the most care, she got to be “good cop.” I did not relish my role.

Today’s Scripture reading tells of an awkward moment early in the ministry of Jesus when his family believed an intervention was needed.

As I read the scripture, you may have begun to get a bit fidgety, because if you imagine Jesus to always be gentle and soft-spoken, this passage will not sit well. If you want Jesus to maintain the status quo, you will be tempted to flip the page on today’s text. If you become defensive when people challenge you to expand your thinking, this story will raise your blood pressure.

Since today’s passage comes from the third chapter of Mark, we know that it is early in the ministry of Jesus. However, Jesus has already caused a stir. He has chosen his disciples, captivated crowds with his profound wisdom, and healed people who are both physically and mentally ill. Many are mesmerized by Jesus and, like rock star groupies, follow him from village to village to soak in more of his teaching and the aura he creates.

However, not everyone is enthralled with Jesus. One of the healings he performed was on the Sabbath. The religious authorities went ballistic because that was a clear violation of the Fourth Commandment to do no work on the Sabbath. So, Jesus was barely out of the gate when he trampled the feet of the religious leaders. Angered – and no doubt jealous of the buzz Jesus was generating – they branded him a heretic.

To be sure, Jesus was a change agent. He was totally faithful to God even when that meant upsetting people and institutions that had grown cold and complacent, and needed new life breathed into them.

Well, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth and his zealous supporters pack the house. His detractors are also on the scene. Scribes from Jerusalem show up and start a smear campaign. Lacking the ability to post on Facebook, they say to anyone who will listen: “Jesus is a minion of Satan!”

Their devious deeds cast a shadow of shame over his family. We can imagine the less-than-charitable chatter among the neighbors. Some scurry to Mary’s house and say, “Your son is out of his mind!”

If you are a mother, you know how deeply that would cut you. Your instinct would be to minimize the scandal, not only for your sake, but for the sake of your other children, and for the sake of your accused son.

So Mary and her other children dash to the house where Jesus is holding court to see if they can coax Jesus to come home and cool down. Apparently they are hesitant to try to cut through the crowd and into the packed house, so they send in a message to him. Someone says to Jesus: “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”

It’s unclear whether Jesus is perturbed that his family is trying to muzzle him or he simply recognizes an opportunity to make a point. Either way, Jesus shocks everyone with a question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Then, he surveys those who gathered around him, and says, “Here they are! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” In a culture that revered family, it was a lightning bolt.

Jesus shocked people in order to expand their imaginations. He was not trying to downplay the vital role of the biological family or to suggest he was ditching his mother and siblings for his disciples. Rather, he spoke in vivid and exaggerated terms to push people into expanding their notion of family.

Think of your own family. It is a given that you are responsible for one another. You are to care for each other and cover for each other. You seek the best for one another. Jesus would encourage you to continue to do that. But he also calls on you to expand your notion of family so that it will be natural for you to love others and to stand up for others.

Jesus is not out to destroy the family or to suggest that those who live under the same roof are unimportant. However, he alters the definition of family. He broadens the boundaries. He says, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Family includes those with whom we are spiritually bound – our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pastor William Willimon remembers the men’s breakfast group at one of his former congregations. They met for breakfast every Wednesday morning and, after everyone gathered, they had a prayer. As they were gathering, Willimon said to the men, “I’d like you to pray for me. I have a demanding morning. Johnny was arrested last night – a DUI.”

“Johnny was being raised by a single mom. He was having a tough time in his adolescence. The other men sighed. Willimon said, ‘I need to go by the jail this morning and see how Johnny’s doing; and I covet your prayers.'”

“One man spoke up: ‘How about if I go with you, because I think I know a whole lot more about alcohol abuse than you do.'”

“Willimon said, ‘Sure.'”

“Another man at the table said, ‘I’m really concerned about that boy and his mother. Let me go, too.'”

“So, three of them show up at the jail and they ask to see Johnny. They are led back through a labyrinth to a dark, cold cell. Huddled in a corner was a seventeen-year-old who looked like he was about five or six. He was weeping.”

“The pastor said, ‘Johnny, we’re here for you and we want you to know that we care.’ And with that, one of the men pushed him aside and said, “Johnny, come over here. We don’t just care, we’re going to do something about this. How much is your bail; how much does it cost to get you out of here?'”

“Johnny said, ‘They told me it would be a couple of thousand dollars.'”

“The man said, ‘All right, we’ll take care of that.'”

The other man stepped up and said, ‘Johnny, how long have you been an alcoholic?'”

Johnny said, ‘I don’t think I’m an alcoholic.'”

“And the man replied, ‘Okay, let me rephrase that. How long have you been lying about being an alcoholic?’ He went on. ‘Johnny, I don’t know about a lot of stuff in life, but I know a whole lot about this illness. I learned it the hard way; but I can help you escape. Look, your mom has a heavy load on her. After we get you bailed out, you’re going to come home to our house and you’re going to live with us for a while. Let’s give your mom a break and let’s give you a break, and let’s see if we can put your life back together.”

The pastor was standing there and this text surfaced in his mind. And he said to everyone standing there, “God has used you to teach me the deeper meaning of what we do whenever we receive anyone into the church family.”1

How expansive is your definition of family?


  1. William Willimon, A Sermon for Every Sunday, Second Sunday after Pentecost, 2015.

Prayers of the People ~ Sudie Niesen Thompson

Where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, you are there among them.

Eternal One, we have come. Some of us gather here within this sacred space; some of us are present in spirit, if not in body. We have come — young and old, life-long believers and new disciples, too. We have come seeking comfort or community, guidance or grace. We have come, O God. And we trust that you are here among us. Draw us in the Spirit’s tether, and bind us together as the body of Christ.

Gathering God, in this place we call each other ‘Sister,’ ‘Brother,’ ‘Sibling,’ for you have washed us in water and claimed us as kin. We know that we belong to you … and to one another.

But we live in a world of division. All around us, we see tears in the fabric of our common life. It’s clear in homes where the ties that bind strain or snap … cutting off partners, cutting off siblings, cutting off parents from children and children from parents. It’s clear in the patchwork of our nation, where threads pull and seams split as conflicting values and competing visions threaten to rip us apart. It’s clear across the globe as hostilities flare and wars rage, reminding us just how difficult — and important — is the work of mending and repair.

God of Grace — whose heart aches for the healing of creation — we lift before you every fractured family, every fractured community, every fractured land. Where reconciliation is possible, bind up the broken parts and draw us into the work of healing. Where the fabric of community has been torn apart, lead us toward resolutions that facilitate peace and restore hope. Cover this world in your grace, O God, and shepherd us toward wholeness.

God our Parent, we know that we belong to you. Your vision is our vision; your work, our work. So we have come in response to your call, to be formed and re-formed for service. Draw us in the Spirit’s tether and knit our friendship up, that we might support one another, strengthen one another, challenge one another, and encourage one another. And, then, send us out, O God, to be your hands and feet in this world.

This we pray in the name of your Son, our Lord, the One who taught us how to pray:

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.