“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.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Jesus’ family thought He was nuts. They wanted nothing more than to take Him home, lock Him in a closet, and leave Him there until He finally decided to stop being crazy. So, what did Jesus say when He was told they had come for Him? He claimed an even bigger family and redefined His kingdom message in entirely more personal terms than anyone had ever considered. Let’s talk about it.
One of the songs my congregation loves to sing together…well, hear together right now as we still aren’t singing congregationally just yet…is called The Family of God. It goes like this: “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God. I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood. Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod, for I’m part of the family, the family of God.”
Followers of Jesus in the church have been using the language of family to refer to one another since the very beginning. Fellow believers are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in the Lord. He is the connection point and it is a connection that runs deeper and truer than blood. Well, that’s not quite right. It runs deeper and truer than biological family blood. Jesus’ blood is the thing that holds it all together.
That’s not quite what Jesus says here, though. He said it’s obedience to the Father’s command that defines our heritage in kingdom terms. But obedience to the Father’s command is only possible when we are covered by His blood and filled by the Spirit. This is very much insider jargon, I know, but there aren’t better terms than this.
In any event, what we see here is one of the places where Jesus first really makes all of this explicit. And let’s pause for a minute to take in just how radical a thing this sounded coming out of Jesus’ mouth. It wasn’t just radical for His time, it was wildly offensive. The people in the room with Him–including those gathered in the circle right around Him–would have been utterly shocked by His saying this.
In the ancient world, family was everything. You were committed to your family no matter what. No other allegiances came before that one. If your family was in trouble, you came to their aid. Period. Everything you did was to be aimed in the direction of honoring them. And yet, when He was told that His family was outside looking for Him, Jesus functionally denied them. He denied them and completely redefined the concept of family for His followers.
Now, as we see throughout the rest of the New Testament, this does not give Jesus’ followers leave to somehow disrespect their earthly families. Where our earthly families haven’t embraced the Gospel, such disrespect can serve to repel them from it. We should treat them with the same basic respect for human dignity and the image of God in our fellow humans that we treat everyone. But, once we are followers of Jesus, our chief allegiance isn’t to our biological family any longer. It is to our kingdom brothers and sisters. Now, hopefully our biological family members are in both groups, but in many cases they aren’t. Our kingdom family, though, becomes our chief priority. Honoring our biological families now becomes something that is filtered through the lens of what will best honor our kingdom family.
Now, on the one hand, this is a pretty challenging notion. Family ties are still strong and they should be. God designed them to be. The thought of putting the needs and interests of the people we live with and have to interact with every day second to the needs and interests of people we may only see once or twice a week is a tall order. The practical and relational consequences of doing that can be pretty intense.
On the other hand, though, not all biological families are equally worthy of honor and respect. We give it anyway because of our devotion to Christ, but some of them make such a gift more of a burden than others. No matter how good or terrible our biological families are, though, in Christ we can know for certain that we have a family that loves us and is absolutely committed to our good no matter what is going on at home. This is a family, too, that won’t end. It is eternal. This is an enormously encouraging truth if we will embrace it. I am indeed so glad I’m a part of the family of God. Are you?