25 September 2012

Called to be the Mothers, Brothers and Sisters of Jesus

Today's gospel passage is, like so many of Jesus' statements about the Kingdom of God, a bit scandalous to us. We are offended by the way he treats his Mother and Brothers and his affirmation that, "Those who hear and do the Word of God are my Mothers and Brothers" might well cause us to say, "Hey, wait a minute! What about the Commandment that we honor our Father and Mother?" As always, this lection causes us to stop, rethink, and even question things we think we know very well; it calls us to make a choice for or against Jesus and the Kingdom he represents and proclaims.

Because of this we realize that much of what we know and live here and now is really a veiled symbol of the Kingdom of God, proleptic or anticipatory of it. Married love, sexual love, is a powerful symbol of the intimacy between God and his People as well as of the union of individuals and God experienced in contemplative prayer. The fruitfulness of sexual love which stems from the union of man and woman as they become one in body, mind, and spirit in Christ is clearly a symbol of the Church as well as the Kingdom. Consecrated celibates symbolize a different kind of love, more universal in its scope and reminding us that in the Kingdom people will be not be given in marriage. Through the service of Word and Sacrament, Priesthood reminds us that we are a single people who live from the Word of God and the Sacraments as we worship together in Christ.  Even family is a veiled symbol of the Kingdom of God. When family "works" as it is meant to there is nothing more inspiring or beautiful. When families are dysfunctional, when adults misuse one another, or children et al reject or disparage the demanding call of life together or refuse to carry the family's deepest memories, carry on its traditions, or hearken to the stories from which the family lives, it is hard to think of anything more painful or awful. They can serve as images of an anti-kingdom or world as well as the Kingdom of God.

Throughout his Gospel Luke reminds us of the partial or anticipatory nature of these things and turns our common values on their heads, especially in his references to children and families. On Sunday we heard the story of Apostles arguing over status --- who would stand highest, who would sit nearest Christ, who would be first in the Kingdom. Jesus responds by standing a small child in the center of the group and explaining that this (according to the values of the culture of Jesus' day) valueless non-person is precisely an image of the one who would be first in the Kingdom of God. It is also Luke who tells the story of a young Jesus in the Temple. When his parents come to find him he reminds them in a way which seems disrespectful and uncaring about their own anxiety: Didn't you know I am to be about my Father's business? And yet he goes with them. However, the Greek words Luke uses distinguishes between this and the obedience Jesus owes his Father. Jesus subjects himself to Mary and Joseph, but to God he is obedient.  While there is no disrespect for his blood family, that family is relativized in regard to his identity in and with God.  In yesterday's passage from Luke he reminds us what real obedience is when he admonishes us to "Take care how you hear" and then explains real obedience means hearkening, hearing and responding to the Word of God so that our small lights light the entire world.

And today he brings all of these pieces together in an extraordinary way. We are to be hearers of the Word, people for whom the Gospel is truly Good News, Sons and Daughters whom the psalms and canticles inspire, console, and for whom they are the way we pour out our hearts to God and with one another; we are to be the ones for whom Jesus' parables are the places we enter while we suspend the values and perspectives of the world and recommit to the values and perspectives of the Kingdom of God. We are to be the ones, that is, for whom Christ is truly Lord. And we are to be these hearers of the Word because just as doing so makes us literally not merely metaphorically the Body of Christ, so too doing so makes us equally literally Mothers, brothers, and sisters to Christ. As persons who grow in our faith we move through stages. We are called to serve, but beyond this Jesus says he does not call us servants but friends, and now, astonishingly, he says we are called to be his own family, closer than even blood can make us.

This is a scandalous truth and it should give us pause. But it should also prompt us to make a decision with regard to the Word of God. And, when we hold hands today around the Paschal Supper table as we pray the Lord's Prayer, the prayer of the baptized, we do so as family --- a Holy Family. We do not do so merely because we are into "touchy-feely" liturgy or because we belong to the "Church of Nice", but because as those who are called to truly hearken to God's Word we strive together to really be the family who are Jesus' own Mothers, Brothers, and Sisters, both here in our truly blessed parish, and in the world that needs us so badly. What an astounding, heart-stopping call and mission!!