Sisters and Brothers

“And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”‘ (Mark 3:32-35)

In Mark’s gospel he shares with his readers the intimate relationship Jesus held with his disciples. The scene opens with Jesus sitting with a crowd, while his family waits at a distance for him being unable to approach. Jesus’ family is attempting to get hold of him because they believe he is “out of his mind” (v.21). More specifically, they believe he is demon possessed and insane as expressed by the interjection of the scribes in v.22-30. Mark’s audience would resonate with this story since their belief in Jesus has complicated their own familial relationships. By juxtaposing the crowd with Jesus’ unbelieving family, Mark is reaffirming the new relationships his readers have as Christians. They would see themselves as those sitting and listening to Jesus, while friends and family are bewildered and antagonistic toward their faith.

As Jesus looks over the crowd his gaze redefines their identity. No longer are they unnamed strangers. Instead they are family, spread out around him, reminiscent of passages such as Psalm 128:3b “your children will be like olive shoots around your table,” and Job 29:5 “when the Almighty was yet with me, when my children were all around me.” This new regard that believers have for themselves and one another harkens back to the traditional expectation that the family would be renewed in the last days. We see this tradition in Malachi 4:6 which says, “he [Elijah] will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” In other words, family members will act without selfishness having concern for one another. This is the new family Jesus speaks about later in Mark’s gospel, when he says that those who must give up family for the gospel receive a wealth of new family members in the age to come (10:29-30). Mark’s readers see themselves as part of that future reality.

Today’s Christians are also a part of Jesus’ family. We are brothers and sisters collectively living out the will of God. Even with a great distance between us and Mark’s readers people still experience difficult family members who are bewildered by our Christian beliefs. We shouldn’t however misunderstand Jesus’ picture of the family. Jesus isn’t advocating abandoning your family for a new one. That would mar the virtuous nature of Jesus’ spiritual family. Instead, Jesus is illuminating us on the spiritual battle waged by evil and sin against the kingdom of God. Our Christian brothers and sisters are the shoulders we have been given to lean on.

In light of Jesus’ gaze, that has redefined our relationship with God, I propose we must take special care to nurture this new family. Evil and sin press against us every day to dissolve the relationship God has given us. This is one reason why God has given every family member gifts and a role to play.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)

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