Psalm 85:2-4, 5-6, 7-8
Anyone searching the Scriptures for Jesus’ “family values” is in for a shock. In a scene that appears in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (we hear Matthew’s version today), we see Jesus’ mother and brothers (James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, Matt 13:55) coming to the door to ask for him. (Matthew omits the tradition in Mark 3:21 that tells how his relatives thought Jesus was out of his mind and set out to seize him.) And when Jesus hears that his family is asking for him, he asks those startling questions: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And then he proceeds to gesture toward his disciples with the words: “There are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is brother and sister and mother to me.”
If we are not shocked by this statement, we are not listening. Imagine a principal knocking at the classroom door and telling the teacher that his mother and brothers would like to see him, and the teacher answering with that response of Jesus. Any normal student would soon get past a momentary feeling of unexpected flattery and would wonder at the teacher’s apparent rebuff of his mom and siblings. If we would feel that way in our North American culture, where family relationship are treated relatively casually, imagine the impact of Jesus’ statement in a first-century Mediterranean culture where family ties were a much bigger issue.
Clearly, Jesus is saying that this new community that he is forming (we call it the church eventually) has a unity deeper than blood. Notice that he explains why he can say that: in this new “family” of the church, the patriarchy of the blood family has been replaced by the Fatherhood of God. People who have become disciples of the Son of God get to be called brothers and sisters (mother, even) of Jesus. Now we know why Paul addresses his fellow Christians as “brother” and “sister.” This “fictive family” is a new way of being human together, and it is based on acknowledging God as Father and Jesus as Son of God. Following Jesus’ teaching, as spelled out, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount, is a living out of the will of God that builds a new set a relationships more profound than those of our families of origin.
This can help us understand the liturgical gesture of the “kiss [or handshake] of peace” that we are invited to extend to the persons around us at a eucharistic celebration. Even though some of those people may be relative strangers, the fact that they are standing and kneeling next to us at Mass means that they acknowledge the same Father and Son, and are therefore brothers and sisters with whom we share a life deeper than blood.
That has obvious consequences. For starters, it means that we surely
ought to acknowledge their presence. Eventually, it might mean that we
find ways of serving their needs. What Jesus meant by “family” goes beyond
the considerations of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Let’s allow
his language to shock again, maybe for the first time.
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