Preached at the Benefice Service in St Mary’s Garsington on 7th June by Rev’d Dr Emma Pennington.
I wonder if you have ever been embarrassed by a member of your family. I’m sure that if I haven’t done so already, Katie and Thomas can look forward to lots of times when, inadvertently I will deeply embarrass them. I remember a classic occasion when I was a teenager going completely red with embarrassment when we were all on holiday in France. My mother, father, sister and myself were on a guided tour round one of the beautiful chateaux in the Bordeaux region. In one particular room the French tour guide pointed out an especially skilful tapestry of a battle between a French knight and an English one. As we left the room, my father said, not as quietly as we all would have hoped, “I bet the English won”. The tour guide heard him and was not impressed. The rest of our visit was one of trying to avoid his glares. We were all so embarrassed.
It seems, from our gospel reading today, that even Jesus could embarrass his own family. He has been gathering a large crowd of followers around him who are intrigued by his words and stunned by his actions. However, not everyone is so enamoured by this new and brilliant teacher, especially the religious authorities of the time and his own family. They have even turned out on mass to ‘restrain him’ as word has got round that the carpenter’s son has ‘gone out of his mind’. In a society where ‘blood was certainly thicker than water’, it would have been his proper familial duty to place their honour and reputation above his own and obey their wishes. However, Jesus does not do this. Instead when he is told that they are waiting without to see him, he rejects their authority over him, and instead constitutes a new definition of family, namely, ‘whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’.
This statement has often troubled Christians. How can Jesus, the sinless, dutiful son whose childhood was characterized by Luke as one of humble obedience, treat his family in this way? This is not the way one respects or returns the love of your family, Jesus should be behaving differently, should he not? Maybe, until of course we view this incident, not from the perspective of the family but from Jesus’. He is being uncompromising in his stance and attitude to his own family because, just like the religious authorities, they assume that they are right and Jesus is wrong. He is embarrassing them. They have not for a moment perceived or thought what all the ordinary, unprejudiced crowd have realised, that Jesus is the son of God and his words and actions reveal the kingdom. In many ways, it is they above all others, who should have realised who Jesus is, not being the ones who call him an embarrassment and full of demons. In their response to him, his family and the religious authorities have rejected Jesus above social convention, when they should have known better.
It is this same rejection of God on account of social convention that we also find happening in the reading from Samuel. To a certain extent, the Old Testament reading is heart-breaking; the people of God, who were unique, chosen out of all the tribes to enter a special, covenantal relationship with the Lord, now want to be like everyone else and have their own king to fight their battles. The relationship with the Lord is nothing to them compared to their power amongst the rest of the nations. The Lord warns them that they are mistaken in their rejection of him as their sovereign and the traumatic history of Israel will bear this out. Just as the people of Israel misjudged the Lord, so too do Jesus’ family and the religious authorities of the day. Yet in both cases, God, does not reject his people as they reject him. The Lord still finds for them a king, just as they wish, and Jesus shatters the blinded social conventions which have prevented his family from seeing who he is and defined what it means to be of his family, the family of God.
The language of the family of God has become so familiar to us, a convention even. If this morning’s readings speak to us at all today, perhaps they are to remind and caution us that it is so easy to become misguided by our own conventions and notions. To act just as the people of God, Jesus’ own family and the religious authorities of his day did and inadvertently reject him and his saving presence in the world because of our understanding of what it means to be the family or the church of God. Let us then pray this morning that above all things we yearn to do the will of God and are never embarrassed by his infinite and patient love for us. Amen.