This homily, based on Mark 3:20-35, was delivered at St. Agnes Church.
There’s a lot going on in the Gospel reading today. I think there is no other passage that shows how alone and misunderstood our Lord can sometimes feel even when he’s in a crowd. In today’s Gospel account, our Lord seems confronted on every front—not only by those most opposed to him, but even by those most devoted to him.
It’s hurtful enough that his enemies accuse him of being possessed by the devil, but what probably cuts more deeply is that his very relatives—his own mother, brothers, and sisters—actually fear that he’s out of his mind.
As always, our Lord’s response is nuanced. To his enemies, he resorts to reason, and he simply points out the inconsistency of their accusation: “How can Satan drive out Satan?” he asks rhetorically. The answer? He can’t. Satan’s kingdom cannot be divided, or it will fall apart. In other words, Jesus must be an outsider to that kingdom, strong enough to drive out evil spirits.
To his relatives, our Lord’s response is not as direct nor does he use reason. Surrounded by his crowd of listeners, he is informed that his family is there to see him. How does he respond? When he is told of their presence, he asks,“Who are my mother and brothers and sisters?” And he answers this question himself, looking at the people around him: “Here are my mother and brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my mother and brothers and sisters.”
No matter how you look at it, it sounds like Jesus is virtually disowning his family. But why not? It’s perfectly understandable. Jesus knows that the reason they have shown up is to take him away from his mission and bring him home.
We can only imagine the look and the tone of our Lord as he said those words. Those words couldn’t have been said without pain; surely those words must have come from a deep place.
It’s pretty serious—this business of being misunderstood. We all have a need to be understood. It’s a basic human need. So when we find ourselves misunderstood, especially by those we expect—of all people!—to understand us—that can take us to a very lonely place.
We’ve probably all “been there, done that.” Your intentions are good. You proceed to do what you believe is right. Then before you know it, things somehow get lost in translation—as they do in life—and suddenly, to your dismay, just like the Lord, you discover that you’re now the bad guy—or at least the crazy one. And when the people closest to you and those you least expect to misunderstand you join in the fray, that can make life unbearable.
That’s exactly what happened to our Lord. He is suddenly branded as the bad guy by his enemies and the crazy one by his relatives. Feeling so misunderstood is pretty serious business and we should take it seriously especially after a tragic week when we have been shocked and saddened us by the suicide of the last people you expect to take their lives.
You see, we never know what’s going on beneath the surface. We all need to remind ourselves to be more sensitive to others because beneath people’s facades, beneath what they say and do, there may be a lot of other things going on. Today’s Gospel reminds us to listen, and by listen, I mean really listen. These we often listen only in order to respond when we should be listening in order to understand. All it takes is a few minutes off our smartphones, a few precious moments of full attentive listening to those who need an ear.
The good news for us is that if you yourself feel alone because you think that the whole world misunderstands you, you are not alone. Our Lord has been there and done that. He knows what that’s like. He understands what you’re feeling.
The amazing part about the Lord is that even at his loneliest and most misunderstood moments, he always chose to think of others and to make them less lonely and less misunderstood.
Let’s do our share in making others feel less alone and misunderstood. If we work on that, we would be more Christlike. And we would be doing God’s will, and we will be, by our Lord’s definition, counted as family.
If you know of anyone who may be feeling this way, please say a prayer for him or her.