The Word Among Us

January 2023 Issue

Called Into Jesus’ Family

There Is No Greater Calling

By: Leo Zanchettin

Called Into Jesus’ Family: There Is No Greater Calling by Leo Zanchettin

When St. Mark wrote his Gospel around AD 65, he did something that had never been done before. He told the story of Jesus from the beginning of his ministry all the way through to his death and resurrection. While written, oral, and eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection had already been circulating, Mark was the first one to sift through these accounts and put the pieces together in a way that would form one long story.

And what was that story? “The . . . gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). The gospel. The “good news” about Jesus. The good news that “the kingdom of God is at hand” and the good news that this kingdom is open to everyone who accepts Jesus’ call to “repent, and believe” (1:15). From beginning to end, Mark recounted the stories of people who did accept that call, as well as people who either struggled with it or who rejected it outright.

On the one hand are those who accepted Jesus’ call to believe in him and the good news he was proclaiming: everyday people like the father of a demon-possessed boy, a synagogue leader named Jairus, and a woman who suffered for years with an incurable illness (Mark 9:14-29; 5:21-43). On the other hand, there are those who rejected his call, including Herod and his wife, a rich young man, and the scribes and religious leaders who handed Jesus over to be crucified (6:17-29; 10:17-22; 14:53–15:1).

This year we’ll be reading from the Gospel of Mark at daily Mass, beginning on January 10 and running straight through until Ash Wednesday (February 22). To help you pray through these readings, we want to look at a few stories in Mark and ask ourselves, “How can I accept Jesus’ call more deeply in my own life?”

An Unruly Crowd. As we said above, Mark often highlights the contrast between one person or group and another. One clear example is the way he tells the story of how Jesus chose his twelve apostles. Mark begins this account by pointing out the “large number of people” who followed Jesus to the Sea of Galilee (Mark 3:7). This is an unruly crowd, filled with admirers and critics as well as the curious, the skeptical, and the needy. They were all trying to get to Jesus but seemed to have little regard for each other. There was so much pushing, shoving, and rushing that Jesus needed to have a boat ready “so that they would not crush him” (3:9).

Of course, there was nothing wrong with wanting to see Jesus, and Jesus knew that. He knew there was nothing wrong with seeking his healing touch, even if you had to join a large crowd in order to do so. But Jesus also knew that crowds tend to take on a life of their own. They can be like a tinderbox that needs only a single spark to ignite it. Even so, moved by compassion for the people’s needs, he continued to minister to them.

For prayer: Jesus, there are times when I can feel lost in a crowd—whether that crowd is made up of my own racing thoughts and desires and anxieties or whether it’s just a crowded, noisy place I’m in. But I know that no matter where I am, you are with me. You are offering me the chance to meet you and find rest and healing in your presence. Lord, help me to find you in every situation. And finding you, help me to find your peace.

Called Out of the Crowd. After spending some time with the crowd, Jesus separated himself and went up a mountain, where he “summoned those whom he wanted” (Mark 3:13). He didn’t invite everyone, only a small group of followers. And it’s from among this small group that Jesus chose an even smaller group: the Twelve who would become his apostles (3:14).

Why did Jesus first call that small group from out of the crowd? What did he see in them that distinguished them from everyone else? He could probably see the difference between those who came only looking for something and those who came in response to his teaching and the message of “good news” he proclaimed. Naturally, he was happy to welcome everyone and heal all who were sick or burdened. But he also wanted to spend time with those who were ready to embrace him and his teachings. He wanted to encourage them and help them take the next steps in following him.

For prayer: Lord, you are so generous! Not only did you patiently make yourself available to everyone who came to you with their needs, but you also took the time to teach those who were thirsty for more of you. Here I am, Lord, ready to learn as well. I’m longing to learn how to repent and believe in your good news, just as you have called me to. Thank you, Jesus, for your willingness to teach me!

The Family of Christ. Immediately after choosing the Twelve, Jesus went down the mountain and headed for his home. But when he got there, he discovered that another crowd had formed, and they were as demanding as ever. They caused such a tumult that it was “impossible” for Jesus and his friends “even to eat” (Mark 3:20).

Some scribes from Jerusalem also appeared with an accusation that Jesus was in league with Beelezbul, “the prince of demons” (Mark 3:22). At some point, members of Jesus’ family—most likely cousins and other relatives—also arrived. They had heard rumors that Jesus was “out of his mind,” and it seems they had decided that it was time “to seize him” and bring him back home (3:21).

That’s quite a pileup of opposition, misunderstanding, and menace, isn’t it? And what does Jesus do in response? Once more, he calls a smaller group together and brings them into his home.

Try to picture the scene. The crowd, Jesus’ family, and the scribes remain standing outside the house, distant from Jesus (Mark 3:31). They may be trying to get to him, but not because they want to follow him. Rather than listen to Jesus, they interrupt him and disrupt his ministry. But a smaller group of people are inside the house, sitting around Jesus and listening to his words (3:34). These are the ones who have responded to his call to be with him. They are his true “brother and sister and mother,” the ones who are ready to do “the will of God” in their lives (3:35).

For prayer: Jesus, thank you for inviting me into your home! Here you are, God’s only Son, and you have chosen to spend time with me. You have put aside the adoration of the crowd, the approval of the scribes, and even the closeness of your own family, so that you can teach me. I am in awe that you would consider me part of your own family. Lord, I want to be someone who “does the will of God” (Mark 3:35). You know how hard that can be for me at times, but you have never given up on me. Jesus, help me be even more ready today to hear your call and respond to it.

For Reflection.

1. Think about times in the day when you find yourself on the “outside” and feel distant from Jesus. Were there any of the groups in this passage who reminded you of yourself? Perhaps you focused too much on asking Jesus to do things for you and not enough on following his call. Maybe you took your relationship with him for granted. Or maybe you got so caught up in what you were doing that you forgot about him. How can you get back to him? Or, to put it another way, how can you “repent, and believe the good news”?

2. Some of Jesus’ relatives thought he was “out of his mind" (Mark 3:21). In a similar way, you may have times when you think that Jesus is too demanding or too hard to understand. Have you ever thought of telling Jesus about it? How do you think he would respond?

3. Jesus has so much that he wants to teach you. But for now, just let his words sink in: you are his mother, his brother, his sister. Jesus treasures you; he values your desire to be with him. There may be challenges to come. There may be persecution or misunderstanding, just as he has experienced. Just place yourself in that small group inside the house. Sit at his feet and listen for whatever he wants to tell you.