While I am certainly no scholar of social customs in the biblical era, I get the impression that few things were as important as family. One’s place of residence, one’s trade, one’s prospects for marriage, and so much more were largely determined by the family into which one was born and the strength of one’s family connections. And therefore, it must have come as something of a surprise to those who heard the teaching of Jesus when he “relativized” family by defining it in an unexpected way.
As today’s gospel lesson (Matthew 12:43-50) tells it, Jesus was teaching inside a house when he was notified that his mother and brothers were outside, wanting to speak with him. But Jesus pointed to his disciples and said, ““Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (verses 49-50).
For better or worse, I’m not sure that family provides the same kind of “organizing center” in our day that it did back in first century Palestine. This, of course, is not to say that family no longer matters; just that increased mobility, changing norms, an a host of other pressures have made it less determinative of our formation and our future. Then, too, we have often replaced or supplemented family with other groupings and networks that define us. Race, class, political affiliation, church membership and other social networks frequently serve to give us a sense of identity — often to our benefit — but sometimes in ways that close our eyes to the broader things that God is doing in us and in the world.
And yet, doesn’t the word of Jesus still invite us to examine the connections on which our lives are based and from which we draw meaning? “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my family,” he says. And whether we’re talking about the members of our local church or the members of God’s global Church, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to have our lives shaped by the only family that we’re promised will endure.
I’m grateful today for family: my “nuclear” and “extended” family, my local church family, and the worldwide family of faith. None of my families are perfect; and yet, at their best, they have taught me (and continue to teach me) what it means “to do the will of my Father in heaven.” And I can only pray that I am helping my mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles to learn the same lessons.
What “families” have shaped and are shaping you today? And how does your adoption into THE Family change your outlook on what life’s about?
May we love and serve “The Family” today. And may our will become our Father’s will, as we expand His kingdom embrace in our hearts, in our lives, and in our world.