In the 2012 film Trouble With the Curve, Clint Eastwood plays an aging baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves named Gus Lobel. While on the road, scouting a High School player in North Carolina, Gus is surprised to look up one day at a game and see his adult daughter Mickey walking toward his seat in the stands. Mickey has come unexpectedly because she is worried about her dad. There are signs that his health is failing, that his age is catching up with him and that is it no longer safe for him to be traveling alone in small towns of the South looking for baseball prospects. So, Mickey puts her job as an Atlanta attorney on hold, takes unscheduled time off work and makes a few days with her dad in order to get to the bottom of what is going on her priority. Yet, in the film, when Mickey arrives rather than saying he is glad to see her and thank her for taking time to come, Gus greets his daughter by being upset that she is there and by telling her to go back home.
A similar scene plays out in our text for today. Jesus is speaking to a crowd when someone tells him that his mother and his brothers have come to see him. Even though the story is told in Matthew, Mark and Luke, it is hard to figure out exactly what prompted them to come. Were they concerned about Jesus and his well being? Did they come just to lift his spirits? Or, had it simply been a long time since they had been able to visit and so they decided to surprise him? Again, we don’t know, but the sense is that Jesus was not necessarily expecting them. Even so, we have to admit that for most of us, what catches us off guard is that Jesus doesn’t seem happy that they are there. It is certainly not what we would have expected and thus particularly on this Father’s Day, a day when like Mother’s Day, we pause to celebrate families, it is a hard story to get our arms around.
Think about it for a moment. How would you feel if you had traveled a long way yesterday to surprise your mom and dad on Father’s Day after rearranging your schedule, buying a gift for your dad and flowers for your mom, only to arrive and have them look at you and say they are sorry but they already have plans with friends? Or, how would your parents react to you, if they were the ones who drove a long way, brought food from your favorite restaurant back home and your favorite homemade desert only for you to look at them and say you have a tee time at 1pm and that you think you might just grab a sandwich on the way to the course. We know how we would feel and we know how such behavior would be received and yet it is in essence what happens to Mary and Jesus’ brothers. Jesus hears they are there and responds not by rushing out to see them or by stoping everything else to spend time with them. Instead, he responds to their presence with a perplexing question “who are my mother and my brothers?”
So, on this Father’s Day, what are we to make of this story about Jesus and his own flesh and blood? Well, let me start by saying what I don’t think we should conclude. I don’t think this isolated story should lead us to the determination that Jesus didn’t love or value his family. Now, we have to be honest that we don’t know a whole lot about Jesus’ family relationships. We really don’t know how some of Jesus’ siblings felt about him and we really don’t know what happened in the end to Joseph, his earthly father, who is absent from the gospel story once Jesus reaches his teenage years. But, we do know according to Galatians that at least Jesus’ brother James among his siblings was a part of the early church. We also know that Jesus explicitly asks John to care for his mother while on the cross in John 19 and that Mary seems to have been devoted to her son every step of the way. From everything we can see in the New Testament holistically, while it was certainly hard at times to be in Jesus’ immediate family for lots of reasons, there seems to have been a love that bound them together just as it does with us and our families in good days and in bad.
So, if we shouldn’t conclude that Jesus had little value for his biological family, what is the point of this passage? I think very simply and very quickly where this text helps us to see the word family with new eyes is its unforgettable reminder that others are placed in our lives, with the church as a collection of fellow believers as a primary example, who also become a family to us on a level that strongly complements our biological families and that at times fills in the gaps that exist in the family into which we were born.
In essence, this passage teaches us that the term family is a word with elasticity. It is a word that stretches and expands beyond just those with whom we share the same DNA.
I don’t think Jesus here was so much diminishing his biological family as he was affirming the role of the other family that we find through our faith. And, quite honestly, today is a good day to celebrate both and to give thanks for the gift of both. It is Father’s Day. Even in these unusual times, its good to sit on the pew with family and have a family meal, even if it is outside on the patio. If we can’t see extended family today, if nothing else, it is good to exchange cards in the mail and talk over the phone and tell our family members, and on this day for dads, that we love them.
At the same time, it is also a very important day to affirm the family of faith. Our church, First Baptist Laurens, has been around for 186 years having been founded in February of 1834. That is a long time. Do you realize that as far as I can document, today marks the conclusion of the longest gap in those 186 years without a service at 14 weeks. I could be wrong, and, one of you might correct me after the service, but I cannot find mention of a gap without a service of worship that is longer than these last 14 weeks. I say that to reiterate what we have all learned – that we have missed our time with each other and that we have realized the vital role of fellow believers to our faith that is easy to take for granted until the opportunity is no longer available. As Jesus was saying in our text for today, we really do become like brothers and sisters to each other. In the church we really do develop surrogate parents and grandparent. This text and our experience should open our eyes to that. Yes, just like you, I have enjoyed sleeping later on Sundays. I haven’t missed wearing a tie. And, I have appreciated the relaxed atmosphere of sitting on the patio or on the sofa and watching church. There are some really nice aspects of it. But, it is not the same as being with each other, seeing one another in person or living life week in and week out in one another’s presence. We need our families, whether we think we do or not, we do need them. Likewise others need us to be like a brother, sister, parent. Sometimes because of the void left by their biological family and sometimes as a result of the simple loneliness and isolated elements of the human experience.
I read the true story recently of a beloved figure who was buried under an oak tree on the family farm. The man’s service was very simple with only immediate family and a half a dozen or so longtime friends present. One of those friends who spoke was a former student of the man. He was much younger and of a different race. In his remarks, he asked all of the man’s biological grandchildren to raise their hands. As they did, he said, “I want to introduce myself. I am your uncle for your grandfather was my daddy too.” The student had not had a biological father and his family life had been challenging. This man who died had filled that gap and a bad had been created that was as think and as real as the one formed by genes and DNA.
This is our lives. Family of all types is essential – biological family and family that is a result of a shared life and a shared faith. Today, let us lean into our family and let us be family to someone else. Today, let us also rest assured that Jesus comes as our brother and that God wants to be our father too. Today let us celebrate the expanded idea of this marvelous word – family. Amen.