'Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, 'here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother'' (Mk. 3.34).
It's quite a scene which Mark records in his Gospel. Picture the cross, embarrassed family of Jesus. They can't believe that their boy, Jesus, is causing this stir, and drawing these excited crowds. Nor can the religious leaders, and their mood is hardly short of fury as Jesus defies their conventions, and exposes their heart-sins. Jesus is neither won over by excitement nor intimidated by religious hatred. His mission is to teach, heal and welcome people into God's true community. And then he speaks these staggering words, in v.34.
Jesus defines the church. We are who he declares us to be. We may well be church-y, and enjoy the activities of the church; but it's only if we meet Jesus' definition, in being people who do God's will, that we are His community, His family, the church.
This episode is truly astonishing. In a society in which loyalty to family was just about the highest virtue, Jesus redefines the key loyalty, and the highest virtue. According to Jesus, it is not to obey parents, or to do the will of your father, or to conform to the standards and expectations of siblings. The greatest loyalty is to Him. And the shared task - for us now as it was for Him then - it to obey God's will.
What does it mean to do God's will, then? The text points us to two certainties:
Firstly, we listen to Jesus. He is the Word of God, and in Him we therefore discover the will of God. Those sitting before Him in Mk. 3 were doing just that. Simple, isn't it? the true church spends plenty of time sitting, learning, discussing and enjoying the Word of God together.
Then, we do what He tells us to. Obedience is the only difference between a fake and an authentic faith. If we really trust Jesus, we will trust Him in doing what He tells us to do. His church is an active church, we are not hearers only, but doers of the word.
These twin realities transform any gathering of people into the authentic church of Jesus Christ.
On Sunday we were learning from The Heidelberg Catechism, which took us to the heart of what it means to be the church. Question 55 puts it like this:
Question: What do you understand by ‘the Communion of Saints’?
Answer: First, that believers one and all, as members of this community, share in Christ and in all His treasures and gifts. Second, that each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and cheerfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.
Amen, may it be so.