“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” (Matthew 12:48)
For some of us, family evokes great memories, special relationships, security, and joy. But not everyone has that experience.
Many families experience splits, conflict, and strain. The memories are painful and our one goal is to not repeat those mistakes. We are determined to break the cycle and start something new. What God intended for good has not always turned out that way for us.
In Matthew 12, Jesus asks two questions that seem almost disrespectful. He’s speaking to a crowd of folk, when somebody squeezes to the front row and says, “Your mother and brothers are outside and would like a word with You.” Then this: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
It would have struck those first hearers with the same shocking dissonance that we feel. Is Jesus just walking away from His blood family? Has He forgotten His family heritage? Is He bringing shame upon Himself and His family by abandoning His family obligations as the eldest child?
Then He adds: “Whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50).
Oh, that’s what this is all about! He’s not forsaking His mother and half-brothers. Instead, He uses a shock tactic to make a greater point. The Kingdom of God calls us into relationships that are stronger and more important than family. As one bishop cried out (in vain) during the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which over 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days, “Water is stronger than blood!” His point? The water of Christian baptism creates bonds that should transcend tribal affinities.
It’s not easy to think this way about those in the pew next to us. “Brothers and sisters in Christ” rarely have the same degree of significance to us as blood family, which makes this Jesus Question particularly challenging.
I’d like to explain this teaching away, minimize it, or excuse myself from it. Besides, I attend a megachurch. Who has a family that big? How could I possibly care for so many strangers as though they were family?
Nevertheless, the question sits out there. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
If I dwell on this for long, it drives me to conclude that no decent family man would avoid family gatherings. No reasonable family person would tear the family apart over petty things. These relationships in the church are not optional but central to our identity as children of God and the family of God.
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
How will we answer that question? And what might it require of us today and this week?