On Sunday, May 11, we in Canada will join nearly 80 other countries in celebrating Mother’s Day. At The First Mennonite Church, we will reflect not just about mothers, but about families—our immediate family, extended family, church family—and how God’s grace comes to us through families
Jesus did not talk a lot about the human biological family. But once he did make a very important statement about who his true kin are.
In the gospel of Mark (3:20-35), Jesus’s many opponents include his immediate family. Jesus has become wildly popular among the crowds for his proclamation of the arrival of God’s Kingdom. But his mother, siblings and relatives think he has gone too far. Some people have begun to say, “He is out of his mind.” And now the scribes are hurling the serious charge that “he is possessed by a demon.” So, when he returns home, Jesus’s family “went out to restrain him.” They want him to stop his teaching and healing which has generated such fierce controversy. Probably they want to protect him from being expelled from the faith community—and perhaps also to protect their family reputation.
But Jesus rejects their protection, and distances himself from his human family. When someone in the crowd tells him, “Your mother and sisters and brothers are asking for you,” Jesus replies, “Who are my sisters and brothers? You who do God’s will are my mother and sisters and brothers.”
That was a shocking and radical thing to say. In Jesus’s Palestinian culture, a person lived and breathed their extended family. The family and clan network formed one’s identity, determined one’s vocation, and prescribed the kinds of people one would socialize with. Outside of the natural human family, one was lost.
But Jesus breaks with the traditional family pattern. To his immediate family and relatives, he is really saying, “If you cannot accept my vocation of bearing witness to God’s Kingdom, I cannot accept you as my ‘family.’” And then Jesus points toward a new family, one based not on blood and kinship ties but on obedience to God alone.
This new “spiritual” family may or may not overlap with our human families. But Jesus is clear: trusting in and following him in life means being re-socialized into a new family, one consisting of sisters and brothers who also have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is now the discipleship family that has become our primary family, the place where we find our true home.