Crowds were all in a day’s work for Jesus. His miraculous acts in Galilee gained Him many friends (or at least fans), but Jesus had earned some enemies, too. He was a renegade by Pharisaical standards, blacklisted for Sabbath-breaking and cavorting with societal scum. Just a few chapters into the Gospel records, the conspiracy to get rid of Jesus was already brewing.
On one particular day Jesus’ mother and brothers came looking for Him because they thought He had snapped. Gone crazy. Sold the farm. They came to take Him home where He belonged — or at least where they could keep an eye on Him. As they approached the house where He was, though, the crowd was so thick that they ended up standing outside while the announcement of their arrival rippled through the mob.
The word of their arrival finally made it to the front: “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You”. Instead of calling intermission and pushing through the crowd to greet them as any Middle Easterner would have done, Jesus turned to the one who delivered the message. “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” The crowd fell silent. If a bystander had dropped a shekel on the stone floor at that moment, its clink would have echoed in the room. With a sweep of His hand around the inner circle of His disciples, Jesus 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.”
Gasp! Many of us are so familiar with these words that we aren’t shocked anymore, but I guarantee His audience was. What would possess Jesus to practically disown His family, or at the very least to displace them? What happened to shift His primary allegiance from His own flesh and blood to a ragtag band of men who quarreled among themselves and vied for position in whatever kingdom He was establishing?
What happened is that the ragtag group of men believed in Him. His own mother and brothers did not. While Mary and her boys said, “He is out of His mind,” Peter and his buddies were getting ready to say, “You are the Christ!” While His family tried to stop what He was doing, His followers thirsted for more. His family’s intentions may have been good — they only wanted what they thought was best for Jesus if they could not accept who Jesus was, he could not recognize their kindredness.
Jesus established a new Family built not on biological connections but on allegiance to His mission and obedience to His commands. But do not think that by prioritizing this new Family Jesus intended to undermine the biological family. He actually affirmed its importance during His ministry. When He spoke strongly against divorce, raising the bar higher than the spiritual leaders of the day had. As for children, Jesus gently welcomed and loved them when His followers would have brushed them off like pesky mosquitoes.
Jesus gave a final affirmation of the biological family in His last excruciating moments on the cross — but He did it within the framework of the new Family. As He hung dying, He gazed on His mother (who believed by then) and did for her what His position as oldest son demanded — He took care of her by making arrangements for her continued care in His absence. But even while fulfilling His sonly duty, He didn’t do what was expected in terms of the biological family. The logical person to care for Mary would have been one of His brothers, but they didn’t believe in Him yet. Instead of entrusting her to them, Jesus gave her to His beloved disciple John — a devoted member of the Family of believers.
Jesus came to institute a new kingdom and a new Family. The advantage of hindsight makes it fairly easy for us to cull these truths from Jesus’ words. But the ideas that Jesus was inaugurating were revolutionary and the people grappled with their meaning. Twenty-one centuries later, we may nod our heads in agreement at Jesus’ teaching of a new kingdom and a new Family, but truthfully, we struggle with it perhaps as much as Jesus’ first listeners did. For decades, strong nuclear families have been heralded as the way to save America. Encouraging the godly leadership of dads, deepening the spiritual walks of moms, and nurturing the hearts of children can’t hurt in the efforts to affect America with the gospel. But if we think it’s the answer, we’ve missed the point. If we think that building strong families will produce strong churches, we’ve got it backward. Building strong churches will produce strong families. Jesus redefined our order of priorities.
We have to rethink things. The nuclear family is not the marrow of identity and purpose. Instead, our significance is rooted in a relationship with Jesus and membership in His Family — the institution officially assigned to reach the world. No longer are we primarily identified by our individual family name, but rather by His name. No longer is our personhood and character most significantly determined by the blood of the biological family, but by the blood of the Lamb.
This Family supercedes the biological family in importance because it is a permanent Family. It is our commitment to one another as believers and our devotion to the truth of God’s Word that will reach the world, not the success or failure of our individual families.
I am not trying to destroy the nuclear family any more than Jesus was, but is it possible that we’ve so focused on reclaiming families that we’ve sacrificed the Family Jesus created to accomplish His mission? Churches are dying every week across this country, while others limp along on life-support. Christianity has an ever-increasing number of nominal followers, unaware of or unconcerned about the cost of true discipleship. If we can’t figure out how to fix these issues, we may as well forget our families. If the American church doesn’t survive, there’s not much hope for the American family.
And there’s not much hope for American singles either. Jesus opened up a whole new world to His followers by joining us together in inseparable relationships and forming a new Family where each member matters equally. He gave significance where there hadn’t been any, dignity where it was missing, and belonging for those cast aside. He made the standard for acceptability contingent on Him, not us. In Him we are given the most precious of relational names — individually we are the sons of God and corporately we are the bride of Christ. Our lives should never be the same.
By Wendy Widder, featured on "FamilyLife Today" and author of "A Match Made in Heaven: How Singles & the Church Can Live Happily Ever After" (Kregel Publications, 2003).
The wearer of six bridesmaid dresses, Wendy Widder knows the single life. She also knows the church after spending a lifetime there in both volunteer and paid positions. She believes more than ever that the two go together. Wendy graduated from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, and is completing a Master of Divinity degree at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.