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Family gatherings

Close relationships on earth are important but not ultimate

Family gatherings

(Krieg Barrie)

“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward 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’” (Matthew 12:46-50).

’Tis the season of family gatherings. For years the debate in our house was whether to break the sacrosanct tradition by inviting nonfamily persons to Christmas dinner. My children and I don’t see eye to eye on music, on politics, on cursive, on Christopher Columbus, and on which persons ought to be able to marry. But all are bullish on family: “Family do or die.” “Blood is thicker than water.” Tollbooth massacres notwithstanding, the closing credits of The Godfather will always find someone in the room sighing, “At least they loved their family.”

Jesus is different. There He is, teaching to a packed house, and a messenger makes his way through with a summons: “Your mother and brothers want to see you.” Okay, mother and brothers trump strangers, right? The Rabbi will surely excuse Himself, if for no other reason than to see if there’s a family emergency. Even a pastor once served notice to our congregation that the only people sure to get his fast-track cell phone attention are his wife and kids.

But Jesus seems to blow it off. At least I would take it that way if I were Mary cooling her heels at the gate. He does not say, “James and John, take over, I’ll be back in five.” He does not use the occasion to bring up the pertinent passages in Scripture about the person not providing for his relatives being worse than a heathen (1 Timothy 5:8). He answers in a way that a church committee might call a violation of the Fifth Commandment—had not Jesus Himself committed it. In one fell swoop, Jesus puts family in its place.

What is its place? Family is a good thing, instituted by God. It is the Creator’s bright idea for a human population delivery system and a Messiah transmission and incubation mechanism. In addition to this utilitarian aspect, family is for each of us individually the locus of a kind of affection best summarized in the saccharine saying “home sweet home”—all those sights and smells and memories that are banal in themselves but are special just for being ours. My sister and I have been divided by an ocean for 35 years, but there is not a day I don’t think of her and feel that worn-slipper comfort and lack of pretense that comes from nothing more than having shared a set of parents and a bedroom.

Family is the locus of a kind of affection best summarized in the saccharine saying 'home sweet home.'

Was Jesus sentimental? The few examples in the New Testament that may fit the bill are non-family-related (with the possible exception of his instructions to John at the cross regarding Mary). My favorite nostalgic Jesus moment in the Gospels is from John 21, doubtless orchestrated by Him for that very purpose. This postresurrection fishing incident in which Jesus calls out from the shore at dawn to empty-handed fishermen to try again on the other side of the boat is recognized by them as a poignant coda to the similar incident in Luke 5:1-11 that began their relationship. John exclaims, “It is the Lord!” Peter jumps from the boat to swim to Him. There is nothing finer in the annals of Western romanticism. 

There is a cemetery near my house. Huddled together for two centuries are the Myers family: Franklin Pierce and Hannah Eli and their children Pierce and Julia. There was a time they were “good old Frank and Hannah” to their neighbors, I expect, but that’s all over now. For “in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left” (Luke 17:34). No matter how close we are to our parents and siblings and children, we will each meet our Savior alone.

And family will then be those who did the will of the Father in heaven.



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  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Sat, 12/31/2016 12:29 am

    I would like to add that there may be more reasons for Jesus' rather cool response to his mother, brothers and sisters. In Mark 3:21 it says, "But when His own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, 'He is out of His mind'." Apparently people were accusing Jesus of being crazy and shortly later in Mark 3:31 we see Jesus' mother, brothers and sisters coming to check up on him - if he was insane or not.  This showed great unbelief so Jesus gave an appropriate response, which was rather cool in nature. 

  •  John Cogan's picture
    John Cogan
    Posted: Mon, 01/02/2017 01:40 am

    So poignant. We all struggle to make our blood relatives understand who we are in Christ and cry when they will not join us.