Matthew 12:46-50

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”

And pointing to 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

We gathered at St. Martin Episcopal Church in Houston for a National Day of Prayer service. A rabbi on the planning committee was the first to speak. As he welcomed us to the service he told a story. It has become one of my favorites.

He said, “Once a boy asked his father, ‘Why does the Bible teach us that everyone has descended from a single father?’ And the father replied, ‘So no one can say that their father is any better than anyone else’s.’” I’ll never forget that moment.

Tribalism is alive and well in our world today – and wherever it sings most fervently, it is most destructive to human community. It is an appeal to our worst instincts. It thrives on greed and false pride. It blinds us to the ties of our common humanity. It is quite comfortable in a world measured by “I will win at all costs and I couldn’t care less about you.” How can we live like that? How can we allow such thinking to prevail in our culture, in our congregations, in our schools, in our businesses, in our government?

Jesus exposes the evils of tribalism. Jesus demonstrates with his life how destructive it is to identify ourselves by our tribal religion or our tribal government. When we do that we end up seeking only to justify ourselves and to protect ourselves from those we perceive to be “other.” We don’t hesitate to use violence or any other means to the end of ascending to the top of whatever imaginary mountain we create in our minds. Thus was Jesus murdered. He got in the way. He threatened the tribe and its tribal identity.

Jesus couldn’t be more clear. “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” God’s arena is life itself, common humanity. This is what the writer of Ephesians means when he says that “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”

Tribalism doesn’t break down walls, it builds them. At any cost. Physical walls, psychic walls. Tribalism strokes division. It feeds upon blaming others. It thrives on victim thinking – accusing every other tribe of taking what is rightfully ours. Tribalism controls access, it controls opportunity, it tilts the playing field toward itself.

I sat down this morning to read the text for today, hoping to send you all off into the weekend with an attitude of joy and gratitude to know that God is with you and Jesus is your hope. First, I read this text. Then I read the newspaper.

The leading articles this morning are about cutting the cost sharing that allows the Affordable Care Act to provide access to medical care, virtually gutting the program, and a threat to cut off aid to Puerto Rico, just weeks after, not one but TWO devastating hurricanes. That is where tribalism leads us. This is where tribalism distorts our thinking.

Tribalism becomes the great justifier of the unjustifiable. It tells us that we can cut communal support for poor people even as we waste untold millions of dollars flying off for the weekend or sending people across the country for publicity stunts or protecting the wealthiest of the wealthy from paying taxes to the very country that created the opportunity for them to gain that wealth.

Tribalism encourages us to demean those who are different. To talk down to every other tribe. To dehumanize the other. To threaten war and annihilation simply because we can. Because tribalism is a lie – a distortion of the reality of creation, that we are all children of one God – it requires lie upon lie to sustain itself. This is where unchecked tribalism has taken us.

Everything I have ever learned about the Christian faith tells me, to the core of my being, that God is no more interested in “making American great again” than God was in propping up the Roman Empire. Jesus comes to heal the world not to divide it into winners and losers. His family consists of those who do the will of God, not those of a certain tribe, or those with the right membership papers, or the right skin color, or the right income level, or live in the right zip code.

I would love to send you into the weekend with happy thoughts. To reassure you that, by the grace of God, you have a place in the family of God. But that isn’t how Jesus says it today. Jesus says his family consists of those who do the will of God. Tribalism and its attendant evils is the very opposite of that. Faithfulness demands that we name it, reject it, and resist it.

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, this morning you remind us that doing God’s will is our calling, our purpose, and our identity. We still remember the words of your first sermon in Luke, how you quoted from Isaiah, how you reminded your hearers, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” We trust that this remains your holy and certain will, and that loving our neighbors, all our neighbors, is the path that will get us there, the path we walk when we follow you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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6 Responses to “Matthew 12:46-50”

  1. oma500 Says:

    So true and so welcome at this time. I firmly believe that we elect people to govern, not to divide us. I’ve borrowed a paragraph and shared it to FB. Thank you for this and for yesterday’s, the day before, tomorrow’s, etc. Your devotionals help to set my head straight many mornings.

  2. learningisthereward Says:

    I too am disheartened by the powerful in this country–and elsewhere–trodding on the powerless to maintain status. It is both unchristian and immoral, two judgments I am also guilty of at times, unfortunately. God save us all from the frailties of our humanity. Thanks for the timely message.

  3. Donna Koska Says:

    Believe it or not . . . I am speechless. Except to say, THANK YOU!

  4. Dave Armstrong Says:

    I always enjoy you comments and observations even when I disagree with some of them. I do believe that the wealthy (I am not in that category) do pay their fair share of the taxes as shown by this chart
    percentages Ranked by AGI AGI Threshold on Percentiles Adjusted Gross Income Share (Percentage) Percentage of Federal Personal Income Tax Paid
    Top 1% $480,930 20.65 39.04
    Top 5% $195,778 36.07 59.58
    Top 10% $138,031 47.36 70.59
    Top 25% $79,655 68.99 86.62
    Top 50% $39,275 88.72 97.17
    Bottom 50% <$39,275 11.28 2.83

    Still, we need to be reminded that there is more to Christianity than church on Sunday

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you for speaking the truth. It is a brave thing to do and we, the people who call themselves Christian’s, need to hear it.

  6. Paul Graeber Says:

    I really love your analysis of the bible and the reality you bring to the preaching of the word. I truly see too much politics and personal vindication since the last election. I read your words about tribalism and can’t help wonder why you preach against it, then throw rocks at my tribe. We are not being divided tribally by the President but by his detractors.
    Keep preaching, keep teaching, stop the divisive political rhetoric.

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