18 August 2006

The Popular Kids

St. Jane Francis de Chantal: Prov 31.10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Mark 3.31-35
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Serra Club Mass

I won’t ask how many of you were popular in high school! I was fortunate enough to find myself slugging through high school at a time in our culture when we were all challenged to perfect postmodern irony—the glib rejoinder to hard reality, the smart-alecky twist to every serious situation. We were also challenged to match pink/green/blue/yellow plaid pants with burgundy and purple Izod button-downs…but that’s a different homily! My point is that I was reasonably popular in high school b/c I was gifted by my parents with a sense of humor, a sharp enough tongue, and something like the ability to seem set back from it all, away, removed somehow from the fray, being at once engaged and separated. At the risk of sounding too therapy-ish, I wanted to be a cool kid but being a cool kid meant being distant, untouchable. To be included was to be self-excluded, and ironically, welcomed.

Among the first hints from Jesus that his gospel will not be limited to the Jews is this short passage from Mark. Teaching a small circle of disciples, Jesus is interrupted by the circle with the news that Jesus’ mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking after him. Rather than jumping up to welcome his family into the circle, Jesus takes this awkward moment to demonstrate a key point of his gospel message: salvation is no longer about who your family is, no longer about one’s tribe, no longer about connections, money, race, gender, or social class. Salvation is about hearing the Word and doing the will of God.

He asks the circle: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” I wonder if we can hear that question w/o irony nowadays—I mean, can we hear that question w/o hearing an inflection, a rhetorical lilt? We can speculate that Jesus has just completed a homily on what it means to be a hearer of the Word and a doer of the Father’s will. To hear the Word and then do the will of the Father is to become a member of God’s house, a householder in His tribe, a beloved son or daughter in His family.

The question about who his mother and brothers are isn’t a glib question masquerading as a “moral lesson.” It is a test question, a convenient chance to say, “Well, just as I was saying a few minutes ago, brothers and sisters, who indeed are my mother, my brothers and my sisters?” Like any good teacher, he jumps at a chance to make a concrete point: “Here you all are! Right here! Because whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

It is the will of God that we be happy. That we be happy in Him. That we find our end, our reach, our peace, our life in His Way. Created by Him to be seduced by His love for us, we are prodded, quite nearly dragged to Him by desire—an erotic pressure, a craving barrenness for His love. We are most perfect as ourselves when we hear His Word—the Word of scripture, the Word of creation, and His unique and final Word, Jesus Christ—when we hear this Word and do His will for us.

There is no irony in our faith, no glib condescension, or knowing winking at ill-kept secrets. Who are the popular kids? Who’s in? Who gets to sit in the inner circle and catch the fireside teachings of the Messiah? Whoever does the will of the Father. And here you all are—the Lord’s mothers, fathers, his brothers and sisters. Here you all are!

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