Christians were redefining family long before there was such a thing as marriage equality and Pride Month. Well, strictly speaking, Jesus himself revealed the essence of family.
What he said was strikingly simple. Love creates family. Here’s the story:
In the early days of his ministry, Jesus used words and actions to preach that the Kingdom of God had drawn near. In other words, the reign of love has come to earth.
He healed the sick, cleansed leprous skin, restored mobility and function to paralyzed and palsied limbs, and freed tortured souls. Love does that, you know.
All of this caused quite a stir. His activity drew large crowds of spiritually hungry, physically aching people. It also provoked negative reactions from powerful people. Some said, “He has gone out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21) Others accused him of being up to no good.
His mother and his brothers got word of the brewing conflict, so they tried to get Jesus to tone it down. By the time they got to where Jesus was teaching and healing, the crowd had grown so large that they could not push through it to get to him.
So, they sent him a message. “Put a lid on it. Come on home before this gets out of hand.”
When Jesus finally heard what his mom and his siblings had said, he responded like this. “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
He looked into the gathered faces and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33, 34b-35)
Doing God’s will makes us family with Jesus. But let’s be clear about what it means to do God’s will. Offering an alternative translation of the original Greek might help. Try this on for size. “Whoever desires what God desires is my brother and sister and mother.”
We’re not talking about achieving family membership by scrupulously following a set of rules. On the contrary, Jesus described it this way. Love God with every part of your being and love you neighbor as if you shared a common circulatory system.
In my recent book Looking for God in Messy Places, I put it this way. Doing God’s will is seeking to love what God loves how God loves it.
Love makes us family. And here’s the real kicker. God already loves us first. We’re already family. Nobody can or even wants to kick us out.
That’s the Jesus message in a nutshell. God has already made the first move. We are already the beloved. Jesus came to help us see that truth and to own it for ourselves.
When we love, we recognize ourselves as a part of the holy family. The more broadly we love, the deeper our realization will go.
None of this is to say that love is easy. Some people are very difficult to love. I should know. I am often one of them.
And yet Jesus tells us to love them anyway. The awkward. The cussed. The disagreeable. The exhausting. The off-putting. The wrongheaded. The stubbornly ignorant. And even people who insist on treating us as their enemies.
And if this isn’t challenging enough, it can be hard to figure out what the loving thing to do actually is. What we think at one moment is helpful and nurturing can turn out to be harmful farther down the road.
That’s why I take comfort in these words from a much loved prayer from Thomas Merton: “The fact that I think I am following your will/ does not mean that I am actually doing so./ But I believe that the desire to please you/ does in fact please you.”
God’s love for us makes us all members of the family of God. No one is excluded.