Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” Luke 8:19-21
My uncle Henry, who had lived in Fresno and had passed away recently, wanted to have his ashes interred with family in Lynnwood, Washington. So this last week we had the opportunity to get together with extended family and have a celebration of his life. As we get older, it seems that the times we are most connected to our family is at funerals and weddings, so this week was a reunion of sorts, too. As a result, I’ve been reflecting on family a lot the past few days.
Families are complex organisms. At their root, they are bound by blood, but some of the richest relationships in families aren’t those genetic ties. Sometimes it is the grafted branches that flourish the most. There are those we are connected to by birth, and those we are connected to by choice. There are those in our families that we feel a special closeness to, and those we just can’t seem to be around. Families are these diverse entities composed of people with differing perspectives, experiences, convictions, and priorities, but who are woven together into a single cloth.
This is probably the reason that family is such a good metaphor for the community of faith. It’s not the only metaphor, but when one considers the dynamics of family life, it’s a particularly apt one. In this passage from Luke, Jesus reframes family away from blood ties and toward those that obey God’s will. Family becomes shaped by choice rather than blood. But as we know, this family is still created by blood—the blood of Christ. So the family of God is made up of those that choose it, and at the same time those who have experienced new birth through Christ’s sacrifice.
And, as in the families we are part of as humans, being part of God’s family isn’t always easy and fun. Sometimes we rub each other the wrong way. This last week, I had a wonderful time catching up with my relations, and at the same time, I was frustrated at times when people seemed to be acting out of their own self-interest instead of being sensitive to others. It’s not easy to enjoy time together when agendas clash. But as I thought about it, I had to consider the possibility that my agenda and my attitude might also have created some tension. It wouldn’t be beyond me to consider what I wanted as the right thing to do—without taking others into account. Families are made of people, and as long as people have that prideful bone in them, there’s going to be tension.
So, what do we do? I don’t believe Jesus’ intent in this passage wasn’t to reject all human ties in favor of a spiritual family; it was to highlight the priority of hearing and doing God’s word. So we’re still bound to family, as family. And in both our spiritual and earthly families, we are going to have to get along. Isolation or contention are not really options, we may never see that other person (or see eye to eye), but that doesn’t mean we have no relationship. It’s just not a good relationship. A brother is a brother, and a sister is a sister, whether we get along with them or not.
In Matthew 20:16, Jesus tells His followers that the greatest among them will be the servant—the one who puts the needs of family before his own needs. Often, in both our spiritual and human families, it’s not about what is right for others, but what is right for us. Again, families can be a little dysfunctional, and can put unreasonable or unhealthy demands on each other. So we need to exercise wisdom in serving our families. But when we are motivated by our selfish pride, wanting the first place in the family, then we reject Jesus’ command and create the very dysfunction that destroys us. And as family, we have no option to simply chuck it all and start over. God has created this family, and we don’t have the freedom to re-shape or edit it according to our desire. Our only real option is to simply do what Jesus tells us—real family obeys the Father.
See you Sunday! John