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A Liberating, Life-Giving Family – That Includes All People!
I recently heard the long and convoluted story of a family – aren’t all family stories long and convoluted when we are willing to risk the truth? It was told by the last surviving sibling from three children and tried to explain the sometimes painful and difficult life of her sister. Her parents lived through the wars in Europe and experienced the deep despair and pain that personal involvement in war brings upon people. Their father had post-traumatic stress disorder, as is common amongst returned servicemen and women. The children had an overtly rigid religious upbringing that contributed to the deep struggle and dysfunction they experienced in their young lives. Both parents succumbed to alcoholism as they sought to anaesthetise their pain and brokenness. Their father became very difficult and explosive, and the children learned to live with the unpredictable behaviours. Life was very hard in many ways for these children. The eldest sister took it upon herself to try and exert some order and meaning into the horrific situation and ultimately felt the shame and guilt that many such children feel and know. Her journey through life was often difficult as the ripples of her childhood, adolescence and young adulthood surged into her adult life exerting a powerful torrent of confusion, pain and alienation. This woman wrestled with her own vulnerability and brokenness in various ways and fought off the demons that plagued her as best she could and with whatever resources were currently available to her. The 12 Steps programs that support families with alcoholic and drug-affected members, were of great support, as was the community of these fellow broken, vulnerable people. This woman found love in different men over the course of her life and also in her beloved animals as well. The sisters spoke very regularly and shared a deep relationship on their journey through life, each engaging with the imposed pain and brokenness in their own ways and offering one another care and wisdom. The older sister visited a variety of faiths and religious traditions, philosophies and places of human wisdom in order to make sense of life and find the resources to cope and live. Spirituality came from different voices in her search for wholeness and truth, but it seems that there was always some sense of the God from her Christian traditions, albeit evolving and particular. She drew deeply on the meaning of love and grace and she found expressions of grace in many of life’s experiences – these held her and sustained her, especially in later life. The younger sister found her life in Christian traditions, although different from the cult-like origins she experienced as a child. She has continued to explore and broaden her Christian faith and to garner deeper existential meaning and hope. This has given her courage to honestly face her life and the lives they have shared. She kept this conversation going with her sister and the grace and love of God became a common element in their relationship, offering hope to each. Both sisters have searched for the authentic place where they can become who they truly are and find their liberation from the continuing flow of broken thoughts and memories, the demons, that have taken up residence in their being. They have sought a place where ‘family’ can be realised in their lives and give them a sense of belonging, healing and security that had been denied them in their early lives. I suspect they have both found these places at different times and in different ways, but it isn’t an easy journey for anyone. It is this sense of us all needing an honest home, a place to be safe and secure where we can explore our own sense of being in a vulnerable, caring, supportive environment, that I also hear in our Gospel reading for this week (Mark 3:20-35). It is a puzzling reading that has different layers of meaning and where the author sets two stories over and against each other such that the one interrupts the other, but they mutually interpret and develop each other. It follows on from Jesus’ growing mission expressed in liberating work amongst those who are broken, hurting, sick and in the language of the 1st century, demon-possessed (though the reality of the demonic is no less real in our own world as the story of the sisters illustrates. We could add the demonic nature of war, oppression, injustice, poverty, addictions…). Jesus’ ministry was to proclaim the liberating Reign of God grounded in love and grace for all people. He became an instant threat to the powers that be who sought ways to silence him and protect their authority, power and position. In the first part of this week’s story, Jesus’ family arrives to take him away. He has clashed with authorities and they feel a growing sense of shame and urgency. Their son and brother has obviously lost the plot and needs an urgent reality check – perhaps a time in a sanatorium? As his family seeks to quietly remove him, the authorities from Jerusalem arrive and the situation explodes. They are angry and afraid and fearful, powerful people should never be underestimated. They immediately attack Jesus with a deeply offensive, charged accusation of his being on the side of Satan or Beelzebul – an agency of the deepest evil and opposed to everything good, religious, God-fearing people seek. In modern idiom Jesus is a ‘Terrorist’ or treasonous or ‘un-Australian’. In a classic strategy these powerful leaders scapegoat Jesus to protect their own patch. He has revealed in practical, loving, gracious and profound ways that God is love and that love extends to all people, is liberating, inclusive and just. The powerful always seek to demonise the innocent or weak as they distract attention from their own flaws and imperfections or vulnerabilities. It is always someone else’s fault and problem and here Jesus is the target. He counters their violent abuse, exposing the fallacy of their words but that only deepens their anger and intent. Jesus’ family finally arrived at the scene that was already out of control. They son and brother was, out of control, mad, confused, deluded… They sent for him but he replied: ‘Who is my mother, my brothers, my sisters? Those who do the will of God!’ He looked around at the strange and diverse group of ordinary people clinging to his words and hoping in what he offered. He claimed this rag-tag group of people as his family because the family of God includes all who will open themselves to grace and love and become vulnerable before one another and God and grow together as a supportive, inclusive community of God’s children. No-one is excluded but not all belong by virtue of their own self-exclusion – they do not want to be part of this life-giving community. The sisters in my story are not unique for their story reflects something of all of our stories and reveals our need to belong in a supportive, diverse, extended family of grace that we call God’s people. It isn’t perfect but it is a home in which to find love and life. It begins with Jesus’ mission gathering steam and people interrupting him at a meal. His family are said to believe he is crazy and try to take him aside to subdue him. Meanwhile religious authorities arrive to deal with him at another level and call him ‘Beelzebul’ and ‘Satan’. These titles have various meanings to the people of the time but are equivalent to us demonising people with various insinuations such as ‘Terrorist,’ ‘Boat Person,’ or the classic ‘un-Australian’. It is meant to be a deeply offensive, charged accusation that is intended to take Jesus down. When we are threatened a common response is to cast blame upon someone else, another type of person who is usually innocent but different. Our major political parties have turned upon asylum seekers to create a ‘common enemy’ and take our attention away from them. They become the political pawns who seem to carry such ominous threat and danger that actually has no basis and is vastly overrated. Jesus’ accusers wanted to paint him as a demonic threat to society. He was dangerous, deluded and a threat to common order and the way of God – which, in fact he was. Jesus was a profound threat to the way of these religious leaders, to their power and authority. He challenged people to live in a way God opened for them through their ancestors but his preaching, teaching and popularity was a threat to their own power and the status quo of their religious life. If people followed Jesus then who could know what would happen, where it would lead and how it would look? If people diverted their beliefs and lives from the established norm and took up another way that embraced distributive justice (equal sharing of resources), inclusive community,