Mark 3:31-35

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he 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 and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35

When we speak of “family” today we have to pay attention to what we mean. The word is slithery. There isn’t a single definition that captures precisely how people experience “family” in their lives today. Even “family of origin” can’t be traced through biology because adopted children are children too.

“Family of choice” is a recent, and necessary, way of speaking about family. As we are discovering, and finally admitting, that people come in lots of shapes and sizes beyond cisgender heterosexuals, peoples’ experience of family continues to expand.

My grandchildren have friends of their mother’s who have never missed a birthday party. Doris might not be related to us biologically but she has been involved in my daughter’s life since Kate was in middle school. She is family. Jay is a gay man who has never married nor fathered a child but he is one of my grandson’s baptismal sponsors and he is part of my family.

I know it might make those who cling to Mary’s perpetual virginity a bit uncomfortable to see these passages of scripture that refer to Jesus’ siblings. But they are there and there is no reason to assume that Jesus was an only child (as theologically convenient as that might be.) But I can well understand how that could have made things a bit more complex.

While it is highly unlikely that the “James of Jerusalem of Acts 15” or “James of the New Testament book” are the same person, not to mention whether he or they were actually a biological brother of Jesus, when it says “James, the brother of Jesus” it does bring a heightened sense of authority to both his words and actions. And that is the dangerous side of “family.”

As vital and important as “family” is, and it is vitally important, it is truly the building block of society, it can also prove an unhelpful smokescreen. “Let’s keep this within the family” is very closely connected to “secrets make us sick.” “But we are family” can be the highest leverage for emotional manipulation. And, of course, there is always the possibility of family members going at each other when the question of settling an inheritance arises.

The death of Muhammed brought a crisis to his followers. The fight over succession divided them into what we know today as Sunni’s and Shia’s. They still don’t much get along. It was normal for Roman Catholic priests to be married with families until 1123 CE when they were officially forbidden to marry. Why? Complications and fights over inheritance.

So yes, “family” is a beautiful and important concept in our lives, and it was an important concept for Jesus. In fact, Jesus invented and introduced the concept of “family of choice” when he declared that “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

This declaration wasn’t a slight against his biological family members, it was an inclusive statement of the welcoming mat to Jesus’ family being extended to all people. Even us.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we experience some of the best parts of our lives, and honestly some of the most painful parts of our lives, in relation to our families. You know it isn’t good that we are alone. You created us to live in families, in relationships that endure. Thank you for welcoming us into your family. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


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