Family relationships are complicated. For some of us, family members are our biggest cheerleaders encouraging us to be our full selves. For some of us, family members are our first bullies who have tried to hold us back from being who we are. For some of us, it is a mixture of both.
Our passage from Mark today shows that even Jesus grappled with the difficulties of family relationships. This chapter of Jesus’ story in Mark especially gives voice to times when home and people from our past bring feelings of rejection rather than welcome and celebration.
Mark 3:20 begins, “Then he went home, and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’”
“Out of his mind,” Jesus’ family says of him.
Definitely not a loving phrase to hear from those closest to you.
Throughout the book of Mark, Jesus is living into a new reality, a new hope for the world and in this part of the story, Jesus’ family just doesn’t understand. Like we all are guilty of at times, rather than taking time to listen and learn from Jesus’ new perspective, they quickly judge him and label him as unwell.
How many leaders and holy changemakers in our world have faced similar judgement and opposition from the communities where they grew up?
How many radical disciples of Jesus were told they were "out of their minds" for imagining a different world?
Today, I would like to share a little from the New York Historical Society about a favorite saint of mine, who I think could understand the challenges Jesus faces in our lesson today so very well.
Born August 24th, 1945 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Marsha P. Johnson faced the difficult rejection of her family when she embraced her true self and her identity as a trans woman. Like Jesus, people in her community thought she was out of her mind, but she continued to be who she was. After graduating high school, Marsha moved to New York City with only $15 and a bag of clothes.
In New York City, Marsha began to build relationships with mothers and sisters and brothers from all backgrounds as part of a growing community of LGBTQ youth who sought acceptance in New York City. But in the 1950s and 1960s, LGBTQ people’s rights were strictly limited. Dancing with a person of the same sex or wearing clothes that were deemed inappropriate for your assumed gender was illegal. Like Jesus, Marsha was not always on the right side of the laws of her time, but was always working to build safer and more loving communities.
Marsha’s life dramatically changed one day when she found herself near the Stonewall Inn in the early hours of June 28th, 1969. That night, police officers raided the gay bar. As the officers began to arrest people for violating various discriminatory laws, the patrons of the Stonewall fought back.
The Stonewall uprising was an awakening for an entire generation of LGBTQ activists. Soon, Marsha was attending rallies, sit-ins, and meetings of the newly formed Gay Liberation Front. Following the events at Stonewall, Johnson and her best friend Sylvia Rivera co-founded STAR, an organization helping homeless transgender youth.
Throughout Greenwich Village, she was known as “Saint Marsha.” She had a reputation for being generous and kind. She gave people clothes and food, even though she had little of her own. Like Jesus, Marsha had a gift for bringing people together and for gathering a crowd.
Like Jesus, Marsha unfortunately also knows what it is to die violently, as her body was found in the Hudson River on July 6th, 1992.*
Thanks be to God for Saint Marsha and other revolutionaries like her.
Thanks be to God for leaders and saints who have sought to imagine and embody a new way of being community together.
Thanks be to God for Jesus who would not let the fullness of his ministry be diminished by the religious elite or even his earthly family.
Mark is not the only Gospel in which Jesus confronts conflict with his family and those in his hometown. However, Mark’s gospel is unique in that it takes place primarily in his home region of Galilee. This context plays a particular role in chapters to come when Jesus returns to his hometown following some time away.
After impressing family and friends with a lecture he gives, they are left saying, “We had no idea he was this good!” “How did he get so wise all of a sudden? Where did he gain such knowledge and skills?”
But in the next breath they cut him down saying: “He’s just a carpenter—Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?”
What has it been like for you to return to your hometown after time away or to spend time with family who knew you in years past?
Like Jesus, do you find it hard to express your full self or to share new perspectives?
I know there are people and places from my past that make me feel small or make it difficult for me to embrace the fullness of who I am becoming in the world. Maybe that is your experience sometimes too.
If so, take heart. You are not alone. Jesus knows what it is to face rejection. Jesus knows what is to confront conflict with family and friends. Jesus knows what it is to not be fully welcomed.
I also know there are times and spaces where I have played the role of Jesus’ family in this story by judging too quickly or limiting my view of what is possible for those I care about.
May we all look to Saint Marsha, for inspiration as we seek to be brave like Jesus imagining and working for a new world. May we notice and work to change when we are too quick to judge others or are resistant to growth. May we, like Jesus, support all those in our lives who may be in need of acceptance and love.
Jesus concludes our passage from Mark today with an invitation. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Today and all days, Jesus is inviting you into a family of grace, a family of newness, a family of love, whatever that looks like. In those spaces where you feel most welcomed and celebrated in the fullness of who you are, look around. Beside you are mothers, sisters and brothers ready to build something new together.
*Biography adapted from Women and the American Story by the New York Historical Society. Learn more: https://wams.nyhistory.org/growth-and-turmoil/growing-tensions/marsha-p-johnson/.