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Who Indeed?

In the third chapter of Mark, Jesus offers an important redefinition of things with relation to the Kingdom of God. Told in 3:32 that his family is outside--his mother and brothers--and that they are looking for him, Jesus responds with a different view.


Rather than playing along according to the rules of normal human interaction and social structures, Jesus asks a rhetorical question: "Who are my mother and brothers?" In other words, when you come right down to it, who are the people with whom He is meant to have the closest bonds? Who are the ones that should occupy that privileged and intimate place?


"Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” is what Jesus says to his hearers.


Not only in the more traditional settings of the past but even in our own day and age, the question of who is closest to most of us still remains those with whom we share DNA. Those who raised us and those who shared our lives in those earliest days. While family bonds are not always close in the sense of frequent interaction, my suspicion is that for the significant majority of us hold biological family members in a special category. Think of it: as time goes on, where do we spend most time at the holidays? Whose weddings do we most frequently attend? And whose deaths might tend to grieve us most? On balance, family is the answer for many of these questions.


Such effects would likely be multiplied significantly for Jesus' hearers in the first century, so his statement here questioning the place of his biological kin is significant. In a sense, He is redefining human social structure, and doing so in a way that could be taken as deeply disrespectful or anarchic. And yet redefine He does.


It is not blood that makes a family, says Jesus. It is not the closeness of shared genetic code. Rather, the family that Jesus speaks of has to do with proximity to God and God's purposes. A common, shared, and active faith that does God's will. All those who walk this path are worthy of the title mother and brothers. It is these who are family.


Jesus is making a point here that, I suspect, was not about bringing reproach or shame on his biological family. Rather, it was an attempt to shed light on the fact that human distinctions--even deeply coded ones--are not the most important thing in the universe. There was and is something more important. Something else.


When I think about the segments we divide ourselves into today, I tend to believe that a similarly stark redefinition is warranted. Because the groups that we are in, even positively experienced or benign units like many human families, can tend to limit our vision or trick us into thinking that they are the most important things. The groups we belong to or are assigned into--political parties or "generations" or professions--all these have the power to be meaning making in our lives. And such meanings? We should take care that they do not overwhelm the call to a greater meaning and purpose in our lives.


On this day we inaugurate a new President, I like many of you am very aware that I am a United States citizen. This is the place I was born. A country that, while having its problems and challenges, is nevertheless one that has much to offer to those of us who live in it. This national "family," in other words, is important.


But the elevation of the nation as the primary unit of identification--this too falls short. This too is a limited perspective that does not take all things into consideration. Because there is a more. A divine reality that can lead us in a new direction. While in some (perhaps many) cases such a reality will involve rejection of the broken or destructive ways in which we can come to humanly organize ourselves, in others I suspect it will simply remind us that our human social structures are not the final word. Because to make them so is, at best, to foreshorten our vision and, at worst, to beckon us down a potentially dangerous path.


May God lead us past such limited horizons and may we have the courage to follow into a new kind of family dynamic.

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Joshua Ziefle

Seattle, Washington

joshuaziefle@gmail.com

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