What Jesus proposes is not an either/or statement, but is meant to be a both/and statement. The end goal of our life is to be in communion with God. To attain that goal, we need to not only acknowledge that God exists but also come to know and follow his will. As Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:50). The challenge is that there is so much that pulls at us for our attention, so much that reaches out to divert us. People, activities, material pursuits are all vying for first place for our minds, hearts, and souls.
The challenge and demands of family life are tremendous. We often read, hear, and experience ourselves, how much the family is being challenged in our modern age. Many of us strive to put family first in our lives. That ought to and needs to be a priority as healthy relationships require commitment, love, sacrifice, and persistence. What Jesus offers then seems to be counter-intuitive to that reality.
Jesus is approached, in the midst of is teaching, and told that his mother and brothers were there wanting to see him. We would think he would say, “Great! Bring them right in, I have a place reserved for them here, front and center!” Yet, I am sure that his comment, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers” (Mt 12:49), raised a few eyebrows and hackles.
Jesus was not choosing his disciples over his family, he was clarifying that the primacy of place of God his Father is to be first and foremost. “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:50). Families come in many different shapes and sizes, one size indeed does not fit all. Building our relationship with our heavenly Father is the foundation toward striving toward healthier relationships.
God first means that we become less and his Son becomes more, this means we come to truly experience the love of the Holy Spirit: sacrifice, willing to give of ourselves to each other, willing the good of each other, and making time for each other. As we deepen our relationship with God, balance will come into better focus. This is even truer for those in our family who say no to the invitation to building a relationship with Jesus. We need to resist the temptation of becoming defensive, imposing our will and God’s will on others. Instead, continually invite, but ultimately live our faith authentically, and others will see the transformation in us. Just as important, is that we will be able to be more present to our loved ones, be better equipped to accompany them, encourage, and support them as they need us.
Putting God first in our lives will help us with our family relationships. As we grow closer and deepen our relationship with Jesus, we mature and begin to experience the fruits of our relationship with him, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22-23). As we are putting these values into practice, we will be more present to and develop deeper relationships with our own family, while at the same time coming to experience a larger extended family, those beyond blood as well as the poor in our midst.
Who was the closest relationship Jesus had? Mary. Not because she gave birth to him, but because she was the premier model of discipleship. Would you like to deepen your relationship with your family? Follow Jesus’ invitation and with Mary let us begin our day and check-in often by saying, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
Photo: Leaning on God and each other last year in Los Angeles!