I want you to think about your favorite family movie. Don’t overthink it…just pick the first one that come to your mind.
Mine is…wait for it…The Godfather.
It’s true! Francis Ford Coppela’s Godfather movies are the perfect family movie! But of course, it depends on how you define family.
My guess is that when I said family movie, a lot of you thought of a Disney movie, or a Pixar cartoon, or a movie with kids and talking animals in it. But I would argue that The Godfather movies are family movies. To be specific, they are movies about family. For those that don’t know, they are about an underground crime family led by Don Corleone, the Godfather. He and his family have Italian mafia connections that have stretched in to America and become one of the biggest crime families around. And the movies are really all about family – how family members interact with one another: father and son, husband and wife, extended family. It really is a “family movie.”
But if you have seen it, or know much about it, it wouldn’t fit the standard definition of a family flick. It is violent, ruthless, and harsh. Throughout the movie, we hear about the importance of family…but of, course, it depends on how you define family. Repeatedly throughout the movie, characters have to prove their loyalty to the family, and if they are at all out of line, it is made clear to them they don’t really belong.
One of the most loyal members of the crime syndicate, Tom, one of the most devoted members of the organization, is repeatedly left out of important decisions because he is not a blood relative. Fredo – poor Fredo – is a blood relative, but makes a decision that crosses the family, and thus meets an untimely demise on a fishing trip. And in the final scene of the first, described by some as the most violent in the series, the door slowly closes on Kay, shutting her out of the conversation and making it clear cinematically that she will never really be a part of the family.
You are welcome to be a part of the family, as long as you play by the rules, do what you are “supposed” to do, and live up to expectations. If not, you are isolated – or worse – and left on the outside.
But let us not judge the Corleone family too harshly. How many of us are immune to the same reality. We don’t probably have family members killed if they cross us, but how often do we have a rigid set of expectations for what is allowed and what is not. It is the rule of “we’ve never done it that way before.” You are welcome to be a part IF you look like us and act like us and live up to our expectations. It is true in a lot of our families. It is true in a lot of churches….
It is a few years old now, as you can tell by the cellphone, but this is a rather famous picture made popular by a rather famous church (I won’t name names). And this rather famous church suggested that this is their target. This is the person that they are looking for for their church.
But what if you don’t look like “Sam”? What if you don’t look like this? I don’t think that there is anything wrong with this guy, but if you don’t look or act anything like him, is the love of God open to you? Of course, this church would say yes. But if you are not the target, in the same way that Sam is, then maybe you wonder if you are really as necessary to the Family of God as Sam is. Maybe you wonder if you belong to the Body of Christ. Maybe it feels like the door is slowly closing on you, as you realize that you will never really belong.
Of course, this church – and many churches – are not as bad as the Corleone crime family. But there is definitely a sense of who is in and who is out, isn’t there? It’s true in our families, our churches…
And it was true in Jesus’ day as well.
In today’s passage, we see Jesus’s homecoming. He returns to Nazareth, the place where he was raised and where his family still lives. At this point in the Gospel, Jesus has left home, begun his ministry, and started to gain a following. He has called the disciples, began to teach through the region, and already has under his belt several examples of his miraculous healing power. He has gathered a reputation throughout the region and people are starting to take notice at his power and his message. So, when he returns home, it is to a hero’s welcome. Think about the return of the war hero Harry Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. Mark tells us that the people are amazed at his power, his reputation, and his teaching. As the passage opens, he walks into the synagogue to teach, and all are amazed at his wisdom.
But things get ugly quick. There is an academic theory in communications called Expectancy Violations Theory. It basically suggests that when our behavior seems off or strange or violent or anxious, it might well because our expectations have been violated. You see, the people of Nazareth thought Jesus was coming home to stay. In the culture in which Jesus grew up, family was incredibly important. Like, “Godfather family important.” You have a responsibility to family and you don’t cross that responsibility. Their expectation of him was that he was coming home to take care of his family. Scholars think that Joseph had died already, and so now it was up to the firstborn to take care of the responsibilities of the family. He had no designs to do so, and thus they got angry. They thought he was running out of his duty, his obligation. And things got ugly. They called him names. You’ll notice that they say “is not this the carpenter?” clearly implying that a blue-collar worker like himself has no ability and no business trying to pretend that he is a scholar and teacher and miracle-worker. And if that isn’t enough, they call him Mary’s son. That seems innocent enough to us, but scholars suggest that in a culture where the father’s parentage was superior, to call him the son of his mother was to question his parentage and basically call him a bastard child. Things got ugly pretty quick. You’re welcome here Jesus, as long as you play by the rules. As long as you don’t violate your expectations. As long as you don’t cross the family.
And again, it is easy to be pretty harsh on the townspeople, but how many of us struggle to see farther than the expectations that we grew up with? Than the “supposed to” of our cultural upbringing? It is easy for us to say 2,000 years later that we would accept Jesus with open arms, but instead perhaps we should ask “who is Jesus today? Who is a part of a different socio-economic status or race or personhood to whom we say, “you are welcome here, as long as you play by our rules”? “As long as you live like we tell you to.”? “We will love you if you act the way we tell you to, if you follow all our rules, if you do what you are supposed to.”
There is not a lot of good news in this passage. Jesus left and didn’t come back. He painfully pronounced that a prophet is without honor in his own hometown, and likely never saw most of those people ever again. And think about the disciples’ experience here. They get called by Jesus to leave their boats and their families and their expectations and their lives, and all of a sudden Jesus is getting yelled at and called names and some of them had to think, “what did I sign up for?” In fact, many of them see the response of the townspeople and wonder if someone is saying the exact same thing about them, running out on their families. They have to wonder if it is time for them to go home and forget about this whole Jesus thing.
But verse 6 is not the end of the story. In fact, in the next few verses, beginning in verse 7, Jesus gathers his disciples together and sends them out on mission. He tells them what to take, what to say, and how to duplicate his ministry. In other words, he offers an alternative vision for what God was up to. He didn’t let the small-mindedness of a few individuals define his reality. He turned to a new and improved version of “family” with the disciples and created a new community, a new way of being together. He helped the disciples to see beyond themselves and their own expectations in order to see an alternative reality. That’s the good news! Jesus doesn’t give up, and doesn’t allow the expectations of others to define his identity.
Instead, Jesus immediately reframes their vision. It isn’t about the old vision, the old expectations, but a new one. That is, by the way, what all of the prophets in our series have done. Jeremiah. Ezekiel. Samuel. All of them lived in times and places where they had a series of expectations laid upon them. There is a reason that they were all prophets without honor. They weren’t playing by the rules! Doing the “honorable thing.” Because they saw that alternative vision, that God was up to a new thing. A new hope for Jeremiah. A new theology for Ezekiel. A new voice for Samuel. And now a new family for Jesus. He immediately reframes the vision of the disciples to see things in a new way. There is a new way to do God’s work, and it involves going out and preaching and healing and showing God’s love and grace and hope.
Over and over again in Mark, we see people trying to tell Jesus, “we’ve never done it that way.” Because they do, they miss out on the healing he offers, the power he gives. But over and over again, who are the heroes of the story? It’s the tax collectors, the demon-possessed, the Syrophoenician woman, the lepers, the outsiders. They don’t have the same limiting expectations for what God can and cannot do, and so are open to the blessing that Jesus offers.
But that doesn’t leave out those of us who have a hard time without expectations. Because also over and over in Gospels, his family gets it, too. They finally understand what Jesus is about, and they join the party. They are with him at the cross, and celebrate with him the Resurrection! They let go of their limiting view of what God can and cannot do and see the alternative vision that Jesus lays out to them. They let go of trying to fit Jesus into their expectations, and figured out who he was!
Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz gives us a theological way to talk about this shift. She talks about the difference between family and familia. So often, when we talk about “family” we do it in the way that the Godfather movies talk about it, the way the Nazarene townspeople talk about. Do it our way, and you can be part of the family. But Isasi-Diaz describes a concept from her own Latina upbringing that she calls “familia.” She describes it this way:
“The sense of familia that we have in mind when we talk about God’s family…is one in which a true sense of home exists, a sense of belonging and being safe to be and become fully oneself. Familia provides for us a sense of unity and cohesiveness that promotes a healthy sense of self-identity and self-worth…..we learn that persons are more important than ideas and that, therefore, we have to take time and care to cultivate relationships.”
And it creates for us a new way to look at family. A new way to see family not as a set of rigid expectations, but a way of being together with those who are related – or not – to bring about a new way of being, a new mission of salvation and power and love.
Compare my family movie to yours. Or perhaps to the top three grossing movies in 2018. Black Panther. Avengers. And Incredibles 2. Look at what they have in common. All are about superheroes. But all of them re-define family in ways that are open and inclusive. It’s almost as if people in 2018 are yearning for a community in which people from various walks of life gather together to bring power and salvation to the earth! They yearn for the alternative vision that Jesus and the disciples gave the world 2,000 year ago! For the community…for the healing…for the family that Jesus created in his ministry.
Today, the prophets have spoken. There is a better way to be. There is a way that God has created, is still creating, in our world today. A way of true community. A way of seeing one another as God created us, not through a lens of rigid expectations. A way of doing mission and being mission on earth in the model of Christ. Let us today follow their example. Let us gather in the name of the familia of God. Let us be together the Incredible Body of Christ!