Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

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

It occurred to me earlier this week, while thinking about this Gospel reading, how where we find ourselves in biblical stories can change over the course of time. When I was younger–having adventures in less than completely safe parts of the world and making vocational decisions that seemed strange to friends and family, like going into the priesthood–I identified more with Jesus in today’s reading, doing the thing his heavenly Father wanted him to do regardless of popularity. (As an aside, when asked “where do you see yourself in this bible story?” the answer “as Jesus” is probably not the best one, though I’m sure I’ve been forgiven for my adolescent grandiosity.)

These days, though, I can identify more with Jesus’ family who is worried about him. It’s probably natural that one becomes both more protective and more conformist as one ages. As you know, I don’t have children to worry about, but that doesn’t stop me from being concerned about decisions other people I care about make. The most ridiculous example of this for me recently–and this is embarrassing to admit, but that’s kind of the point–is how I’ve been thinking about a YouTube presenter Annie and I like to watch leaving his position at a well established network to start his own business recording music and designing board games. This is not somebody I know that I’m worrying about, and so it’s surpassing silly that I should be concerned that he is making an imprudent professional move. Imagine what I’d be like if I had actual human children making decisions about their lives!

I wonder how many of us have been through a situation similar to Jesus’ in the morning’s Gospel, whether we were the young man making inexplicable decisions or the family member worried about him. Our Lord was, let’s be honest, causing scandal, and his family was afraid he’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. I know it makes me uncomfortable, particularly since, as I said, I worry about decisions made by people I’ve never met.

We’ve all 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. Moving off to college? That’s madness! Choosing to live somewhere besides the family property? Madness! I should hasten to add, that there is plenty of difference between genuine concern and natural protectiveness on the one hand and the makings of codependency on the other, and recognizing that God has given agency and the capacity to make decisions (even bad ones) to those we care about is a good thing to keep in mind.

Anyway, 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 a loved one to an endeavor we might think is irregular at best or foolish at worst. The trick is to help that person 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 his 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 somebody from following 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.