While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (NIV)
Jesus obviously did not get the memo that blood is thicker than water. When his own blood family were waiting outside for him, Jesus used the occasion to speak of what makes up a true follower of God. Christ boldly asserted that his true family is made up of people who do God’s will. By saying this, Jesus brought the point home that the kingdom of God turns on obedience.
Rather than solely confessing belief, or appealing to a family heritage of faith, Jesus said that a genuine believer in God is one who listens to God’s words and then promptly obeys them. Therefore, a Christian is defined by allegiance to Jesus, and not by having a certain bloodline.
Identity determines activity. For example, if I identify myself primarily as a worker at my job, my activity will show it – I will spend long hours at my labor, and will do whatever it takes to please my boss and gain promotions. If I identify myself primarily as an athlete, I will spend long hours honing my skills, and do whatever it takes to please the coach and to win. If my identity is mostly wrapped around being a husband and father, I will focus most of my attention on my family and seek to please my spouse and children in all things.
If my identity is first and foremost as a Christian, I will always seek to please Jesus. I will then view my job as an opportunity to express the ethics of God’s kingdom, as a calling from God, and as a means for God to transform me for his glory. I will view athletics as means to glorify God, and not as an end in and of itself but as a special gift for God to teach me about the importance of community and working together.
If my identity is clearly in Christ, I will view my kids as belonging to God and I will steward the trust of children given me by doing whatever it takes to teach and train them in the way of Jesus. I will thank God for my family and not confuse them with being God by idolizing them.
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus was inside a house, with his family on the outside. So, why were the family members of Jesus not inside the house sitting at his feet, taking the posture of a disciple? The disciple Matthew wanted to communicate more than physical distance between Jesus and his physical family – being “outside” was meant to convey the posture of Christ’s family as spiritually distant, skeptical of him, and indecisive about who he was and what he was up to. In fact, the disciple Mark made this spiritual and emotional distance clear:
Jesus entered a house. A crowd gathered again so that it was impossible for him and his followers even to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they came to take control of him. They were saying, “He’s out of his mind!” (Mark 3:20-21, CEB)
Christ’s earthly family were not looking for Jesus to give them warm-fuzzies and have a family group hug. They were there to tell him: “Cut it out, Jesus, because you’re acting like a nut-cake and embarrassing us all!” The kid brothers of Jesus (James and Jude) would go on to become powerful Christian preachers and each pen a New Testament letter, but that does not happen till after Jesus’ resurrection.
Jesus was saying that identifying only with a biological family leads to only pleasing that family. However, identifying with Jesus leads to a radical form of following God that seeks to please him instead of submitting to family practices, mores, and beliefs which are inconsistent with the kingdom of God.
For the follower of Christ, the church is the family of God, and we are to act consistent with being in such a family. We are to go hard after God’s will, serve one another, and adopt outsiders into our family. The church is a family, not a restaurant. When we go to a restaurant, we either like the food and the service, or not. If the experience was unpleasant, we might complain to the waitress and may or may not come back. Try doing that with your mother and see where it gets you! As a biological family, we are committed to each other. There is no complaining about mom because of dad’s wrath. Instead, we are expected to clear our plates and put them in the dishwasher, to sweep the floor and clean the table, and to work together for the benefit of the entire family. In the same way, following Jesus means being committed to his family, the church.
Priority is to be given in doing God’s will, regardless of blood, because obedience to Christ identifies us as being in the family of God. Our actions and the way we live points to what we honestly believe and where our commitments truly lie.
The first step of God’s desire for us is quality focused time in sitting at Christ’s feet and listening to him because this is at the heart of all Christian discipleship. We cannot do God’s will until we have clearly heard it; and we cannot hear God’s will unless we take the time to be at the feet of Jesus.
Both listening and doing are necessary. Listening without engaging the world is a failure of mission; and doing without first listening leads to misguided acts and eventual burn-out. Allow Jesus to call the shots and let him instruct us so that we can act wisely and obediently.
Jesus did not devalue blood relatives as irrelevant. Rather, Christ emphasized that our primary allegiance is to him, and not to our biological family. The kingdom of God seeks to restore and redeem all things, including family. Both church and family are important. The relationships within each are to be nurtured.
The family of Jesus, the church, is important because Christ suffered and died for her. So, we are to be committed to the church, love the church, and serve the church because we are family. If we have a good grasp of this, we will make decisions based in what we believe God’s will is, instead of whether a relative will get upset, or not.
Our biological families are important. Jesus never pitted one against the other, because he wants to see families redeemed and work together as the family of God. Every Christian family can do this:
- Appoint a time to read Scripture together and listen to Jesus and discuss it.
- Show hospitality so that we can eat and drink our way into the kingdom of God.
We need to persistently pray for spiritually lost family members, and those whom we are estranged from. Most families have at least a few toxic persons in their orbit. Here is how we might pray for them:
- That God will arrange divine appointments between them and other believers who love Jesus.
- That God will draw them to the mercy of Christ.
- That God will hinder the devil’s schemes against them.
- That they will understand and respond to the good news of God’s grace.
Soli Deo Gloria