Luke tells us a story: soon after the birth of Jesus, probably about forty days later, his parents take him to the temple to be presented. They take two birds with them, either two turtledoves or two pigeons, to offer as a sacrifice, a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for what they have received. If you look at the stained glass window at the back of the church, you will see the story of Jesus’s presentation at the temple. You see Joseph kneeling before the priest, holding the baby Jesus. There are the two birds that they took as their sacrifice. Luke goes on to tell us that when Mary and Joseph arrived at the temple they met an older gentleman whose name was Simeon. Simeon had been told earlier in his life that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. The Spirit had moved him that morning to go down to the temple, and as soon as he saw Jesus he knew that this was the one, this was the Lord’s Messiah. Simeon burst out with those beautiful words that we pray every evening in the daily office, both at Evening Prayer and again at Compline. If you do the full office, you are reciting these words twice every day. Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised. For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior whom you have prepared for all the world to see, a light to enlighten the nations and the glory of your people Israel. These are beautiful words that touch the soul, words that nourish the soul. But Luke tells us that this is not the end of what Simeon says. Simeon then blesses Mary and Joseph. He looks right at Mary and he says to her, This son of yours? He is going to be responsible for the rising and falling of many. People will be opposed to him and, in fact, a sword will pierce you own soul as well.
I can’t help but wonder if today’s Gospel reading is one of those moments in Mary’s life in which her soul was pierced by Jesus. For Jesus rejects his mother, his siblings and says, They are not my family. This story takes place early in Jesus’s ministry. He has been going around Galilee, he has been healing people, he has been teaching, he has been casting out demons, he has been gathering a following. There are so many people it’s actually dangerous at times. There is one story when Jesus is by the lakeshore. He tells the disciples to get a boat ready because the crowd is pushing in on them, and they need to get out on the water and away from the crowd before they are crushed. And then there is today’s story when Jesus is trying to eat supper, and there are so many people pushing in that he can’t even eat.
By this point, Jesus is also gathering some enemies, people who are opposed to him, people who do not like what he is doing, who do not like his teachings, who do not like the crowds that are coming to him. They find him to be dangerous. They are saying, We’re not sure all this stuff Jesus is doing is really all that great. We’re not sure that the spirit behind this is really the spirit of God. It might be another kind of spirit, an evil spirit. They are trying to sow some seeds of doubt and rile up the crowd. Finally, they go to Jesus’s parents and his siblings and say, You’ve got to get over here. Jesus has gone off the deep end. You need to go take care of this. So they go to gather their son and their brother. As soon as they arrive, someone goes to tell Jesus. Jesus knows exactly what is going on, that this is not a friendly visit, so he says, Who are my mother and by brothers? Those folks outside, with whom I share some blood, or these folks right around here who share my spirit? Who are my family? Those folks out there who are trying to restrain me, trying to keep back the spirit of God, or those folks right around me who are trying to do the will of God?
The sword will pierce your own soul as well, Simeon told Mary, and that sword is piercing her soul as she is rejected by her son. Fortunately, the relationship gets repaired and Mary is there by the cross, Mary is there after his Ascension with the other disciples praying and worshipping and praising God. She is one of the disciples. But in this moment her soul is pierced by that sword.
The word Gospel means Good News. For those of us who grew up in families of deep love and care and respect, who grew up in families in which that was the cradle of our faith, who grew up in families where we learned about the love of God found in Jesus Christ through the teachings of our parents in a family context, today’s Gospel does not sound very much like Good News when we hear Jesus reject his own mother. To those of us who are trying to raise our children in the knowledge and love of our Lord, to hear a child reject a parent does not sound like very Good News. And yet for other folks, peoples whose families are not cradles of love, but are places of abuse and violence which, if you open the paper, we read are right here in Lane County, for them this story is actually one of power and liberation to them. This is very much Good News, to know those family ties are not so strong that we must put up with abuse and violence and rejection. Instead there is another family, the family of God, a family trying to do God’s will, a family that is basking in the love of God, a family who cares about their flourishing. It is Good News indeed.
Last week we were talking about the Sabbath, how one can interpret the Sabbath in a way that is actually quite oppressive, or the way Jesus interprets the Sabbath that encourages our flourishing. It is an interpretation of love. We talked about the way Jesus interprets scripture through the lens of love, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Today’s story is another example of this. In the Ten Commandments we are told to Honor thy father and thy mother. It is right there in scripture, in the top ten. That scripture is understood by some as a way to abuse children. But Jesus says that is not the way we should understand it; it must be understood through the lens of love. If your biological family is one in which you are experiencing the love of God, then AMEN, that is fantastic. But there is another family for those who do not experience that love in their families, and for the rest of us as well: it is the church. Our work as the church, as the family of God, is to be that cradle of love so people may know the love of God found in Christ Jesus. That is the work that we are called to do in this life, to be a family to each other and to all those who want to come and be a part of this family and find the love of God.
So, my sisters and brothers in Christ, you are my sisters and brothers in Christ, you are my family in Christ, you are this family that is embodying the love of God, you are folks who are embodying the Good News that says there is love for everybody, that God’s will in this world is the flourishing of humanity through the spirit in love. Embody that love, embody that Good News, embody that will of God.