“Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And Jesus replied, “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, my sister, my mother.” - Mark 3:32-35 (NRSV)
Often I hear the church described as a family. I'm never quite sure about this – speaking of the church as “family.” I understand that it’s a way of saying we find friends, love, and a sense of belonging in church. But sometimes all this talk of church as family does something else. It says to the guest, visitor, newcomer, or stranger, “You’re not part of the family.”
Maybe I am unsure about all this because Jesus himself doesn’t speak of the family in a simple or unproblematic way. He challenges family and redefines it – radically. I doubt it felt all that great to his mother and siblings when he looked around at a crowd of perfect strangers and said, “Here are my mother and brothers!” I expect they were perplexed by that, perplexed and probably hurt.
Really, Jesus explodes conventional notions of family. And as precious as my own family is to me, Jesus’ words are a needful stick of dynamite – especially when “family” or “church as family” becomes in-groupy and exclusive, especially when the spoken “Yes, we’re a family here” carries an unspoken “and you're not really a part of it.’
Jesus did not define family by blood or race, by shared history or time served, or by biological relationship. For Jesus, obedience to God was thicker than blood. If church is family, let it be this kind of radically redefined family: “Whoever does the will of God is my family.”
Thank you Jesus for being so difficult, for challenging us, for being – so often – the question to our answers. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book, Useful Wisdom: Letter to Young (and Not So Young) Ministers will be published early next year by Wipf and Stock. You can read and sign up for his blog at www.anthonybrobinson.com.