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 God’s 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 his teaching, and told that his mother and brothers were 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!” He instead replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers” (Mt 12:49), which I am sure 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.
For our relationship with God to deepen, we must be willing to let of of our ego and self-centeredness. This is no overnight or easy process, but as we do so each day, we will begin to experience God’s love a little more. The practice of allowing ourselves to decrease and Jesus to increase leads to change. We will become more patient, understanding, less reactive, and more present. These qualities are very helpful in improving our relationships.
As we continue to mature in our spiritual life, we will also begin to experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (cf. Galatians 5:22-23). By putting these gifts into practice, we will be more available to others and better able to foster deeper relationships with our own family members, while at the same time coming to experience a larger extended family, those beyond blood.
Who was the closest human relationship Jesus experienced? Mary. Not because she gave birth to him, but because who better than Mary followed the will of his Father? If life with some family members is a little bumpy right now or you just want to deepen your familial bonds, might I suggest that we assume the posture of Mary and say often, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
Photo: Leaning on God and each other three years ago in Los Angeles!