Commitment

The Narrative Lectionary points us this week to Ruth 1:1-17 and Mark 3:33-35. The selected text does not tell the entire story of Ruth. It does cover the most familiar line in the story – Ruth’s commitment to stay with Naomi in spite of the urging of her mother in law to go back to her people.

Don’t plead with me to abandon you
or to return and not follow you.
For wherever you go, I will go,
and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people,
and your God will be my God.
Where you die, I will die,
and there I will be buried.
May the Lord punish me,
and do so severely,
if anything but death separates you and me.

Ruth 1:16,17, CSB

Man of us have heard these words recited in weddings, although that is not the original intent of Ruth’s appeal to Naomi. Instead of a celebration, this is a story of bitterness, mourning, and grief. Naomi has lost her husband and her sons. Her daughters in law are from Moab and Naomi entreats them to go back to their own people. Orpah does so, but Ruth commits to stay with Naomi. Actually, there is a wedding story here, but the Lectionary does not encompass that part of the story.

The Gospel text is one that takes place early in the ministry of Jesus. So early that even his own family does not seem to understand what he is doing.

Mark, as we know, does not give us long descriptive passages, but instead terse bullet points of Jesus’ life and ministry. Chapter 3 presents five brief portraits of the ministry and work of Jesus. He is, at this time, in a very public ministry out among the people. In vs 1-6, he is among people who ought to know and celebrate him, but instead, after a healing they decide to kill him. He is rejected by his own people.

While some are rejecting, others are seeking him out. In vs 7-12, crowds are pressing in, which causes him to get onto a boat. He healed the diseased and exorcised the demon-possessed.

In verses 13-19, He appoints the twelve Apostles. Verses 20-21 give us insight into what Jesus’ family thought about all this public ministry.

Jesus entered a house, and the crowd gathered again so that they were not even able to eat. When his family heard this, they set out to restrain him, because they said, “He’s out of his mind.”

Mark 3:20, 21

He entered a house and began to teach. His family, convinced he was mad, wanted to take him home. Instead, Jesus teaches about a house that cannot stand if it is divided against itself. He refers to an accusation that he is doing miracles by virtue of the power of Beelzebub, but I wonder if he isn’t also referring to the division in his own family in some slight manner. This section concludes with a statement about an eternal sin – one that is unforgivable. All this talk about Beelzebub, divided houses, the work of Satan and the eternal sin likely convinces his family that they are right – he is losing his mind. They try to extricate him from the home and that’s where our text appears.

Jesus, won’t you please just come home?

I can picture them starting to panic. Even people in the house are pointing out to him that his mother and brothers and sisters are out there asking for him.

His mother and his brothers came, and standing outside, they sent word to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him and told him, “Look, your mother, your brothers, and your sisters are outside asking for you.” He replied to them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Looking at those sitting in a circle around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Mark 3:31-35, CSB

Who are the people of Jesus? Certainly, Mary and his brothers and sisters are his people. Mary is one of his most devoted disciples, staying with him all the way to the cross. I don’t think we should interpret this episode as one of rudeness toward his family. Jesus is identifying his people – his spiritual family. What did it mean to those in the household when they heard, “Whoever does the will of God...”?

This month I am preaching the texts through the lens of discipleship, and both of these stories tell me something about commitment. In the Gospel text, those who are going to follow Jesus are being invited into the family of God based upon their commitment to do the will of God. The Ruth text is a beautiful example of familial commitment that is both costly and beautiful and rewarding. If we are to be the family of Jesus, we must decide that nothing will interfere with that commitment.

These two texts do not appear to be related in any extensive way. They both talk about families that are fractured by either loss or concern for a loved one. They both present a level of relationship commitment that withstands difficult times. They both present estrangement from one’s own people only to find fulfillment by being a part of a distinct people.

The preacher following the Narrative Lectionary this week has some challenges. It will be interesting to see where God leads this week.

You’re welcome to join us in our discussion and sharing of resources about the Narrative Lectionary in my Facebook group called Narrative Lectionarians.