It is not uncommon these days for people to lament the demise of the family. People have been talking about the death of “traditional families” for as long as I can remember. Sociologist, economists, and pundits of various sorts all worry about this. Even Christians worry about this.
It seems odd to me that Christians worry about this because Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time talking about families. In fact, when he does, Jesus seems to redefine family away from marriage and kinship groups. If you remember Jesus wasn’t married. Paul wasn’t married. Paul, himself, doesn’t appear to have been a fan of marriage. I get the sense from Jesus that traditional families may not be that important.
I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark. You may recall the story where Jesus’ brothers and their mother Mary come to get him. When Jesus is told his family is outside, he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And then -looking at the people around him- says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35, see also Matt 12:46-50)
Of course the other thing that is happening, is that people are claiming new families. Families created out of choice rather than biology. Mostly, it seems, these new families are created out of necessity. You move away from family and home and you find new people to spend the holidays with, new people to share your successes and support you through hard times. Sometimes people’s families abandon them, perhaps when they come out as gay, lesbian or trans. Sometimes people need to leave their family due to abuse or trauma. There are as many reasons families break apart as their are broken families.
Fortunately, we can create new families. We can have relationships that are more than friendships. We can have the sibling or mother, father, aunt, or uncle who we have, for whatever reason, lost. This new family can be healthy and good for all of us.
Jesus seems to say we have a new way to think about how we are related. It’s not nuclear family. It’s not extended family. It’s not church family. It’s just family. All of us. Absolutely all of us. And the head of this family? Jesus. That’s it, just Jesus.
“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Non linear. Non hierarchical. Not even any second cousins. Just family. Family everywhere we look.
Can I recognize the person on the bus as family? The person at the next desk? Across the street? Honestly, it’s not easy for me. And then I wonder, can they recognize me as family? Does my life, do my actions mark me as a family member?