Luke 8:19-21 (CEV)
19 Jesus’ mother and brothers went to see him, but because of the crowd they could not get near him. 20 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you.”
21 Jesus answered, “My mother and my brothers are those people who hear and obey God’s message.”
If I asked you to tell me about your family, who would you tell me about?
Maybe you have one of those simple, easy to draw family trees. Just your biological parents and some siblings, perhaps, two grandparents and some aunts and uncles on each side, and it just goes back like that generation after generation.
Maybe you have one of those complex families that make a grade one assignment to “draw your family” almost impossible. How do you explain the role of your ex-step-grandmother in your life, for example?
Maybe you were adopted. Maybe you spent time in foster care. Maybe when you think of family it gets complicated because of an ex-partner who is still involved as a parent.
Although family can be incredibly powerful – sometimes incredibly precious or just as incredibly painful – in our society it isn’t actually the defining feature of who we are. It isn’t unheard of for someone to come out of deeply painful family spaces and become something that no one would have expected out of them. The name helps, the opportunities definitely help, for sure the money helps. But it is possible for me to know you fairly well without needing to know who your mother and father and brothers and sisters are. I don’t need to know that information for us to be friends. It might come out, we might talk about it at some point, but it isn’t crucial.
Back in Jesus’ day though, family was everything. As the eldest son in a family where the father had passed away, Jesus was his mother Mary’s entire social safety net. By leaving paid employment, leaving home (even though he was probably about 30 and unmarried) Jesus was, to this culture, abandoning his responsibilities. Presumably his brothers were picking up the slack in his absence, but it seems that they’ve had enough. They bring Mary with them and set out to find Jesus, and the way I read it is that they came to try to convince him to come home and get on with his responsibilities.
Jesus doesn’t say no.
But he doesn’t say yes, either.
He redefines this family to whom he has such high responsibility. To a people without any other social safety nets other than the family that they have (or don’t have) he introduces a new way of thinking: you’re not merely responsible for those with whom you have a biological connection. “Family” and your responsibilities towards them now extend to all of those who ‘hear and obey God’s message’.
That means that Roy is now my family. That Christina is my family. That Erin and Rhonda and the other Erin and Lynzi and Ashley and Zach are my family. Rob and Gabrielle and Caleb are family. It also means that others who follow Jesus around the world are my family. Christians in Iraq and in China are family. Christians in Korea and Finland are family. Christians who are right-wing evangelicals are family and Christians who are gay or trans are family. It’s even true that Christians who listen to country music are family and Christians who love to curl up with some good jazz are family.
There is, apparently, only one condition for being part of this family. Have they ‘heard and obeyed God’s message.’
And yes we could split hairs over whether this person has really heard and obeyed God’s message or not, but I think the point is not for us to try to make the circle narrower, it’s for us to start to see that this family of God’s is bigger (and perhaps more cumbersome) than anything we would have ever thought possible.
And the crazy thing about family is that we’re there for each other. In fact, in most of the families I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem to matter how much hurt and pain and past there is to the family story, when family needs something we almost always still respond. And that’s the kind of family Jesus is calling us to be for one another.
- Have you ever thought of yourself as part of God’s family?
- What comes to mind when you think of God’s family being this diverse, this spread out, this varied?
- How does it change how you think about the other people at church on a Sunday, or part of our community during the week?
- How does it change how you think about what’s going on in other parts of the world?