Mark says that Jesus had a number of brothers and sisters, but Jesus’ family plays a remarkably tiny role in his story.
By the Rev. Brad Mullis
In the Sunday gospel for June 7, one of the disciples tells Jesus that his mother and brothers are outside waiting for him and calling him.
“Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Jesus replied. “Anyone who does my will, anybody who gets on board with my movement, that’s my family,” said Jesus.
Jesus has some strange ideas about family. For most of us, family is the most significant of our social groupings, for good or bad. We make them, they make us, and we deal with them, for good or bad, all our lives.
“Family values” was not really a Jesus thing. We know next to nothing about the family of Jesus. Mark says that Jesus had a number of brothers and sisters, but Jesus’ family plays a remarkably tiny role in his story.
To Jesus, everything—even family—is secondary to his mission; nothing is more important than obedience to his heavenly Father. Still, it’s interesting that Jesus appears to devalue the human grouping that most of us value the most.
Jesus left his biological family in order to form a new family based not on blood and genes—-that is, the way we make family—-but rather upon the gracious, barrier-breaking call of God. All across Palestine he called the lost and orphaned back home, and got himself in trouble for eating and drinking with anyone who would share a table with him. In his stories of seeking the Lost Sheep and seeking the Lost Coin and the Lost Boy, Jesus is forming a new family composed of those who had difficulty fitting in with their human families.
Our human families, for any of their virtues, are just too small, too narrowly defined.
So, when parents present a child for baptism, the Christian initiation rite, the church washes that person in water, an act which says, among other things, that the person has been reborn, started over, and has been adopted into a new God-formed family. It is as if the person gets a new name, “Christian,” that takes precedence over that person’s family name. And the church is that fresh, new family made up of those who have heard Jesus say “Follow me” and have stepped forward and said “Yes.” The priest takes the child from them and says, more or less, “You are two wonderful people, but you can’t raise a Christian on your own. It takes a bigger family. Therefore, we’ll share responsibility for this baby; we will help you raise a Christian.”
In this transient world of grandparents without grandchildren close by, and single-parent families, and grandchildren growing up without grandparents, and marriages under stress, we need a bigger family than the one we were born into. We must be born again into a new family, a family as large as the love of God in Jesus Christ.
To be credibly called Christians, followers of Jesus today, we must be willing to live into our baptisms, that is, to accept our membership in a new, far-flung, barrier-breaking family, the church. We have to be subsumed in a family bigger and more demanding than the one into which we were born.
And we must take our part in that family. We must engage the story with one another in lively and vital Christian formation. No matter how old or young we are. We must engage our youth as they seek Christ in worship and service and relationship. We must reach out into the world in the same love that reached out to us in our baptism. And, we must join our family at the table. You see, the chief act of Christian worship isn’t some mysterious, dark, spooky thing. It’s a family meal with everyone around the table, the Sunday dinner that we call the Eucharist, family as God intended family to be. As family, we address some of the most sinful, often difficult-to-bear rascals as “brother” or “sister,” just because Jesus loves them to death.
So you can see why, when the Jesus movement got going as the church, baptism not only signified everything that water means-cleansing and birth, and death and refreshment, renewal, life–but baptism also meant adoption. To become a Christian, to have your life taken over by Jesus, is to be joined into a family, a people convened by “water and the Spirit,” a family bigger and better than your biological family, a worldwide, barrier-breaking family that goes by the name, “body of Christ.”
You belong to something as big as God’s love. No matter what your family of origin, you have been adopted into God’s barrier-breaking family through baptism. That goes for all among us or all who would be among us. The nature of this family is always to welcome, always to receive new folks warmly and completely, the way Jesus did. So take your place in this household, and live into this family name in all its glory and responsibility.
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” —The Rev. Brad Mullis ◊
This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 edition of Topics. Read more articles here.