Mark 3:20-end 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
O the mystery that is family! The bond between family members can be so strong, yet it can be broken and seemingly beyond repair. What we often call ‘family’ is also indicated with the words ‘house’ or even ‘kingdom’. A kingdom is a household on a larger scale, and we view a household as the shape of a family dwelling. ‘Home’ is another such word that describes the place where people are known by their connection to one another. Even for those living on their own, the word ‘home’ speaks of connection, of the comfortable place, where they can be themselves; where they can invite others for moments of shared peace and comfort. The word ‘comfortable’ has ‘comfort’ in it. But this is not a litany about semantics. Rather, I’d like to talk about what it means to be connected as family and what it means to go or be at home.
In the incident that’s recorded in Mark’s Gospel about the attack on Jesus by the scribes, Jesus explains, in parables, how he is establishing a new kingdom, a new house, a new family, that is stronger than the ‘house’ of Satan. God’s house, and his kingdom are stronger and Jesus is proving that by every step he takes towards the cross. His blood relatives are afraid that he may be seized by the authorities, but Jesus knows that the scribes’ accusation is absurd; even so, Satan’s rule is at an end anyway. Jesus speaks of ‘the strong man who needs to be tied up before his house can be plundered’, saying in effect that he, Jesus, is the one who has broken into Satan’s house and bound him. Now the house of Israel and indeed the whole world will be set free from the power of sin and death, as a new day dawns in the reign of a new kingdom that is God’s. When his mother and brothers and sisters appear, presumably to take him home and, in their minds, to safety, Jesus replies by saying that he has a new family: those who are with him, he describes as his mother and brothers, for ‘whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’
When my Mum was in hospital and realised that she would not get better, she decided to accept that and she began to speak about ‘going home’. She didn’t mean her house, which had been her home on earth for so many years, but her home in heaven, with God. It took a little more explanation to help her doctor understand the true meaning of her words. The doctor thought she was speaking in terms of physical reality, but my Mum had spiritual dimensions in view. Now, looking back, I am also reminded of my grandparents’ grave, which has the words from 2 Corinthians 4, verse 18 inscribed on the headstone: ‘because we look, not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.’ The comfortable space that my Mum was looking forward to was not the house in the village that she had lived in with my Dad, but the space that Jesus had gone to prepare for her, with her heavenly Father. A new place that she called home, as she knew herself to belong to a different house, the kingdom of God. She had loved being with her family on earth, and was grateful for what she had received in earthly terms. Her task here had finished. Now the time had come for her to go in a new direction, to be with her other family. And her other family are all those for whom Jesus has prepared a place, so quite a crowd, I reckon!
God’s kingdom has often been referred to as ‘now and not yet’. In other words, it is already here and yet it is to come in all its fullness, at a later date. Whatever we now know as family and as home in a positive sense, is a reflection of what is to be. As Christians we are already part of God’s family, with a promise for our future existence, when we are called to our eternal home. I find that very comforting: we have a place on earth and we have a place in heaven, where our connection with those we have known as family continues. Jesus says clearly: ‘here are my mother and my brothers and sisters’. He doesn’t say that they will only be his family once they’ve reached heaven, but that they already are family while on earth, doing the Father’s will. And if we follow Jesus, we know that we are already home. Amen.