We are only into the third chapter of Mark's gospel. Jesus Ministry and mission has barely begun- and yet already from the religious authorities and his own close family the cry is going up 'too much, too much, he's got a demon, he's gone mad, we've got to restrain him'. What has provoked this extreme response? Essentially Jesus has declared that the sabbath is made for human beings and not human beings for the sabbath, and dared to heal on the sabbath day. Promptly the religious authorities sensing a threat to their power base, have set out to destroy him. Moreover they have persuaded his family to take action – probably by threatening them with expulsion from the Jewish community unless they do so. The common people however love him - he is proclaiming a faith that works for them; a faith that is not bound by rules and traditions, but open to the generous movement of the Spirit. So the crowd are pressing in on him so badly that he has had to take to a boat for fear of being crushed, and is finding it hard even to eat. In these circumstances it would have been fair enough for Jesus himself to have declared' this is too much', but He does not do so...
So what was that message? It was a message of radical, comprehensive inclusivity and generosity. For Jesus the human rules and regulations- and even the ones seemingly with God’s approval like the honouring of the sabbath- could not stand in the way of compassion and the quest for healing. There is a great simplicity about his response to his context- if someone needed healing, Sabbath day or no sabbath day, he healed them. He was generous in the exercise of his healing ministry and constantly encouraging his hearers to broaden their views, to be more generous in their interpretation of the law. Instinctively he sought to broaden rather than to narrow down- and hence in this passage he gives a definition of family capable of including any and all, and certainly not confined to our ideas of family as Mum, Dad and two point four children and a dog.
All of which is thought provoking as we come to consider how we offer ministry and mission as a parish and in our current context. We have identified for example ministry among children and younger families as our number one priority, and we agree that we need to be raising and directing resources to this area. Clearly Jesus would not expect us to limit that priority to the families already within our congregations. His emphasis was always on the outsider, those without much in the way of traditional support. He did not limit his concern and involvement to those within the Jewish fold. For his generosity was a whole of life attitude- he was generous with his time, generous in his opinions, generous in always giving those around him the benefit of the doubt. And we are to seek to be like him.
It is very challenging. At any point we can throw up our hands like the Pharisees and Jesus own family and say 'too much, too much!' But the reality is that the love and generosity of God in Jesus Christ is infinite and always challenging us to open up more. Our Mission Action Plan stretches all of us beyond our comfort zone, to try and imagine how our parish can offer itself generously to the community around us into the future. As a great Archbishop, William Temple, said, 'the church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members'. Isn't that tremendous? So what we are being asked to do is to participate in generosity of God and reach out for the good of those around us regardless of whether or not they are ever going to be part of our worshipping community. That takes money and resources of time and talent. Some of us no doubt already feel that we give a great deal, and as a parish we are immensely grateful to all who give tirelessly and sacrificially – thank you to all of you. The question before us over these next few months is, ‘what more can we do? ‘ Little things, especially with regard to money, make a big, big difference. If everyone in our parish gave just an extra $5 every single week consistently that would add up to $36,000 by the end of a year – almost enough to meet our current shortfall. Just from the price of a cup of coffee in a café. Now not all of us can manage that, which means that those of us who can need to do more.
So over these weeks, think about the generosity of Jesus; about the ministry we could exercise in our city if we had the resources and ask yourself what more you can do to ‘grow our faith with generosity’ Amen
Penny Jones for Pentecost 2 Year B, Mark 3: 20-35