The Family of God, or Why the Church Matters for equality

By Jon DiNovo, participant at Goud op Zondag

One day Jesus was preaching before a large crowd. At this point in His ministry, He was quite well known by many of his fellow Israelites. While preaching, someone approached Him. They told Jesus that His mother and brothers were nearby and wanted to speak with Him. They were referring to Jesus’s mother Mary and his half-brothers she gave birth to with her husband Joseph. 

Jesus turned to the messenger and said, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” 

He motioned to His disciples and continued, “Here are my mother and brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” This response must’ve taken the messenger (and anyone else who heard it) by surprise.

It was quite a wild thing to say. Especially when you consider the culture Jesus came from. Unlike the modern West, Ancient Israel was a collective society. And at the heart of this collectivism was the family. Family members were expected to look out for each other and live together from generation to generation. It was expected that even for a local celebrity like Jesus, making time to speak with one’s parents and siblings would take priority.

But that’s not what Jesus did. Or, at least, that’s what the text leads us to believe. Instead, like many other recorded accounts of Jesus’s interactions, He uses the moment to illustrate an aspect of the divine truth and reality of His Gospel.

How Christ sees family

We’d do well not to take Jesus’s response here at face value. Those who do “the will of my Father in heaven” aren’t literally Jesus’s blood relatives (obviously). What He’s saying if you can believe it, runs deeper than that. Jesus is using the illustration of a physical family to point to a counter-cultural truth that runs through all of Christendom: The family of God.

For Jesus, those who have chosen to follow Him and practice His Way are as near and dear to Him as blood family. This was certainly a revolutionary idea at the time, especially when the common view of gods in the Greco-Roman world was one of distant, powerful, and mostly impartial beings. Instead, we have here a God who makes men and women His family and brings them the love, care, and regard that go along with that.

It’s quite beautiful. But that’s not what I want to focus on. Instead, I’d like to consider the implications this has, not between humans and God, but between humans themselves- specifically, the humans who make up the family of God.

Inside the family home

Surely if those who seek Christ are considered by Him to be family then it logically follows that they should view one another as family, too. With this in mind, we begin to see the Church with a much deeper and profound intimacy.

Family is a tricky term for a lot of people. Living in an imperfect world, many have received ill and even traumatic treatment from their families of origin. Some of us can use our families to relate to Jesus’s point, others cannot. Instead, let’s think of what family is meant to represent as we follow where Christ’s words lead us.

In Jesus’s time, the family was expected to support and provide for one another. To stick with each other. Family loyalty was a cardinal virtue in that day and age. One’s family was their primary community, those they could expect to rely on come rain or shine. Take this and combine it with the immense value of love that Christ placed on human relationships and what do you get? In short, you get a community of individuals who come from all walks of life, are bound together by a shared love of Jesus, and are expected to be there for one another come what may. This is the Church.

Church as family

Like family, the word “church” can be a loaded term. Open any Church history book and you’ll see what I mean.

Nonetheless, I’d argue that whenever churches inflict lasting trauma, they are not holding to the family ethic that Christ put forth. On the contrary, when that ethic is being exemplified to its fullest, churches are right where they need to be. 

No family sees eye to eye on everything. Conflict happens. Different personalities clash. Yet, in my experience, most families don’t let this tear them apart. They have their disagreements, yes, but these disagreements aren’t enough to keep them away from each other. Most recognize that the relationship shared between family members is important enough to make such disagreements fairly small in the long term. In this familial bond, they see something in each other that makes the relationship and the well-being of the other worthwhile.

We must be trained to see our fellow followers of Christ in such a way. Especially in intercultural congregations like Goud op Zondag where our amazingly wide array of backgrounds, cultures, and opinions can sometimes lead to tension. We must learn to “bear with one another in love” as the Apostle Paul wrote; for it’s the healthiest families who put this into practice well. Above all, we must learn to see one another as Christ sees us- as family. The most unique family there is, transcending age, gender, nationality, race, class, language, locality, and more- all united by the love of God.

This is what the Church is meant to be. Not just a building. Not just an hour or two on a Sunday. Not just songs and a sermon. Not just the people we worship next to. The Church is so much more than all those things (as beautiful as they are). The Church is a group of people doing life together towards the shared goal of being with Jesus, a community built upon the unshakable foundation of never-ending love. blessed with the eternal dignity of being close to and cared for by God.

It’s a charge to see the dignity in the other. For some, it’s an opportunity to redeem the image of family in their hearts. For all of us, it’s part of that great, blessed hope, knowing that no matter what happens we can always rely on the Church. That we will always have a place to weep, to rejoice, to grow, and, of course, to love. 

We are the family of God, so let us live a life worthy of such a title.

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