Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I wonder how many of us have been through a situation similar to Jesus’ in the morning’s Gospel. Our Lord was, let’s be honest, causing scandal, and his family was afraid he’d gone mad. I think that the first time my parents learned that I wanted to be a priest, they thought I’d gone mad. When Jesus’ family finally approaches, Jesus’ response is not especially polite:

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.” 

One wonders how Jesus’ family—the mother and father who raised him and the kinsmen with whom he grew up—felt about this. One suspects they might have felt horribly betrayed!

This is certainly a shocking story, though I think it has something to tell us, and it may be something which some of us are unwilling to hear. Even though I joked about my parents probably thinking my choice of vocation to be madness, I am fortunate in that they never stood in the way of what I felt God was calling me to do and who God was calling me to be. This is not always the case. I didn’t know how fortunate I was that my mom and dad found it entirely appropriate that I should move off to a college 1,500 miles away, or live in the big scary city (that’s New York, which is big, but honestly not scary) afterward. They never told me, when I was in my early twenties I couldn’t go hang out with missionaries in Pakistan or cross the border from Israel into some of the more “iffy” parts of the Palestinian Territories or try (unsuccessfully) to insinuate myself into one of the underground churches in Southwest China. I was more or less an adult, after all.

These are extreme examples, but I have heard stories of family expectations seriously impeding a young man or woman’s development into the kind of person they feel God wants them to be. Going off to college? That’s madness! Choosing to live somewhere besides the family property? Madness!

I don’t mean to suggest that we have no responsibility to honor the expectations and hopes of our elders. I do, however, mean to suggest that parents and other family and friends need to respect the potential vocations of their loved ones. When I say “vocation”, I don’t mean profession, but rather calling. Perhaps God is truly calling a son or daughter into a life which takes them far away. Perhaps God is calling that child to an endeavor we might think is irregular at best or foolish at worst. The trick is to help that loved one discern God’s call and support him or her when he or she has made a prayerful decision.

The risk in not doing so is to be either purposefully at odds with God’s will or uncomfortably convicted by Jesus’ assessment of his mother and brothers when it’s too late to say “I don’t understand, but I support you.”

We know that in Jesus’ case, even if his family were caught off guard by the comments in today’s Gospel, reconciliation was effected. Our Lady was present at the cross, keeping her vigil, surely knowing that as horrible as it all seemed her son was following the Will of his Heavenly Father. None of us is as gracious as the Blessed Virgin, though, so we must be all the more reticent when we may be dissuading or manipulating somebody against God’s will for them. When we’re conscious of this pitfall and prayerful in our response, we not only avoid a great deal of grief. We are able, at last, to see just how unexpectedly God can work through loved ones and circumstances we never would have imagined.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.