Who Are My Mother and Brothers?

A group gathered outside to participate in Eucharistic adoration.
Photo by Rachel Moore / Unsplash

In today's passage from Mark's telling of the gospel (Mark 3.19b-35) Jesus reshapes one of the cornerstones of his society.

Jesus is having a particular intense exchange with the crowd around him and people are beginning to wonder if he's out of his mind. Worried for him, his mother and siblings come to fetch him. When someone tells him that his mother and brothers and sisters are asking after him, Jesus states that all of the people around him—anyone who does the will of God—is his mother, his sister, his brother.

In Jesus's society, family is a fundamental part of everything. To whom one is related by blood has ripple effects in every part of one's life. One's family affects legal status, property ownership, careers, religion and religious roles, potential marriage partners, and so on. This determination of opportunity and social status by birth is so deeply written into society that few question it. We can see the weight of ancestry and family relations in many places in the Bible, perhaps most obviously in the genealogy of Jesus offered at the beginning of the Gospel according to Matthew. Linking Jesus to David and Abraham is critical to Matthew in establishing Jesus's place within Judean society.

When Jesus responds to the people trying to return him to his biological family by saying that he is already with his family, he is not just saying that he wants to stay put a while longer. He is making a radical statement about how we are meant to understand relationships and how God is meant to be held at the centre of them. This is not unlike Jesus's declaration in Matthew about putting parents against children and dividing families. A declaration of faith in Jesus as the Messiah was (and still is!) a radical act and there are almost certainly people in the crowd who have fractured biological families as a result of this decision. Jesus's affirmation that they have been adopted into a new family would certainly be a comforting statement to hear.

In Canada, June is widely observed as Pride Month, drawing attention to the continuing work for 2SLGBTQ+ equality. Many queer people know what it is to be separated from their biological families, whether having been shunned by their relatives or having chosen to leave to preserve their health and safety. Many queer people celebrate their chosen families. The group of people that they have found who are caring, loving, and supportive of them despite not being biological relatives. People who fill the roles of mothers, brothers, and sisters when the biological ones can't or won't do the same.

Jesus knew that there would be fractures in the family structure so important to his society and ours. He knew that as people heard his message and came to believe in him as the Son of God, they would choose to follow him and, in so doing, lose the supports of their families. Jesus provided an example—a reminder—that to be counted among his followers is to be counted among a new family. One that exists not because of a happenstance of birth, but by choice. One that, today, declares to each new member at their baptism into the family that they will do all in their power to support them in this life. One that calls on all of our ancestors in the faith—all of the saints—to come and be present to welcome their new grandchild, our new sibling, as they pass through the water into eternal life.

Jesus's declaration of a new family was disruptive, shocking, and entirely countercultural. For those who have been pushed to the margins by families already disrupted and shocked, it is also very good news.

Andrew Rampton

Andrew Rampton

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