Even a surface reading of the Gospels will offer a glimmer of Jesus making things new. We can read and imagine the scene today. Many are gathered around him in a circle. The crowd is large but focused intently on Jesus as he taught. His family, presumably the relatives that only a few verses earlier came to seize him because he was out of his mind (cf. Mk 3:21), had arrived, were standing outside, and sent word. The message passed among the people was: “Your mother and your brothers [and your sisters] are outside asking for you” (Mk 3:32).
Jesus seized on the opportunity for a teachable moment. He looked not beyond and past the crowd that encircled him to his family who had sent word, but to those who were nearest to him and said: “Here are my mother and my brothers. [For] whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:35).
The true measure of family in the kingdom of God is not a bloodline but faith in and following the will of God. Those who have experienced or still experience the gift of a close, tight-knit, extended family can come close to the dramatic moment of silence that must have followed after this statement. For anyone living in the ancient Near East, familial, clan, and tribal relations were paramount to survival. To say that family bonds were strong is an understatement. Yet, Jesus challenged this societal norm by raising the bar even higher.
The relatives of Jesus were not present in this inner circle, they were on the outside. Imagine who might have been sitting in that circle; sinners, the unclean, tax collectors, and possibly even Gentiles – non-Jews, and Jesus said that they were his brother and sister and mother! If his relatives thought he had lost his mind before, I cannot imagine what kind of mental conniption they entered into after these words.
Jesus was not devaluing or delegitimizing family, he was restoring the family to its proper place and extending it out beyond what anyone of his time could conceive of. As Bishop Robert Barron writes, “when we give the family a disproportionate importance, in short, it becomes dysfunctional” (Barron 2011, 17). We as the baptized are united in a deeper way into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is even a more powerful call to unity here than the blood-line of family, clan, or tribe.
The end goal is that as each person draws closer in their encounter and relationship with God, they also draw closer together. As we are conformed more and more to the life of Christ we begin to bear his fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22).
In sharing the fruit of the spirit, in giving this gift away to one another, our relationships will grow and our bonds will become stronger. Our love grows as we give it away, person to person, out beyond our comfort zones, to the peripheries, where there are those who feel set apart, and/or are on the outside looking in. We are even to share with our enemies. Not possible? True, if we enclose ourselves within our own bubble and focus on protecting our ego. Possible, when we deepen our relationship with Jesus.
Too many today are choosing to encase themselves in their own protective bubble wrap. Instead of embracing diversity we are going backward, we are regressing. By choosing to close ourselves off from other viewpoints, talking over each other and at each other, if we are talking at all, and embracing fear instead of love, we are distancing ourselves from God and each other. Our strength as a people and as a nation and as a world increases when we embrace the human dignity of each person, and the rich diversity bestowed upon us through the unconditional love of God. May we embrace the teaching of Jesus who in his emphasis on following God’s will “was insisting that the in-gathering of the tribes into God’s family is of paramount importance” (Barron 2011, 17).
In today’s Gospel account from Mark 3:31-35, Jesus did not define those gathered around him by race, ethnicity, gender, or any other label. He defined them then, as he still defines his family today, as those who are willing to follow the will of God his Father. Mary his mother being the primary model.
Jesus, please help us to open our hearts and minds to receive the Love of the Holy Spirit so as to will the good of our family and friends, our colleagues, classmates, and neighbors, as well as those we may consider as other, and even our enemies. Help us to resist asking who does or does not belong in your inner circle, but instead be willing to surrender to God, follow his will, and sit at your feet, not only to learn from you but also to be empowered by you, so to care for one another as brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.
Photo: One family in Christ!
Barron, Robert. Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of Faith. NY: Image, 2011.