Most of us consider people as falling into one of three different categories: our immediate family, our extended network, and our church family. Each has different characteristics:
- Immediate family. I also refer to this as our "biological" family. This is who we live with and who we get together with on holidays. It may not be "biological" in all cases (adoption, for example), but it is "immediate."
- Extended network. I refer to this as our "extended family" and it includes friends and acquaintances. This may include co-workers, neighbors, or friends.
- Church family. This includes, obviously, the other believers we worship and "congregate" with. It may also have a broader reach, if we consider folks we know from different churches, as well as other religious people.
Jesus' point was not to separate himself from his family. We know that his mother remained close to him and was present while he was crucified. Jesus himself demonstrated care, concern and love for his mother when he asked John to care for his mothers. And his brothers, who at one time wanted nothing to do with him, eventually became followers of his. James even became a significant leader in the early church in Jerusalem.
Instead, what we learn from Jesus is that it is possible to become distracted by any of these networks of relationships. For example, some people hold up their family almost as an idol, especially when they sacrifice spiritual things for the sake of "spending more time" with their family. Others would rather be with their friends and acquaintances than their spiritual family. Still others nearly worship their church rather than Jesus, who is at the center of the church. We find our true, spiritual family--the family of God--in those who do the will of God.
In each of these categories, spiritual people exist. Yet, it is not these external relationships that matter, but the internal relationships--whether people do the will of God or not. Sadly, some churches, while claiming to follow the way of Christ, find themselves caught up in controversy that is far from the will of God. In these cases, these churches may not represent the real, spiritual family of God to another. Some families do the same: caught up in their pursuit of the "ideal family," they neglect the will of God for their idol and are not serving as the true spiritual family of God for each other. Likewise with some extended networks of friends.
In Matthew 12, Jesus was in the middle of teaching the crowd. He had just fended up an attempted attack from the Pharisees when someone informed him that his family--his mother and brothers--were outside and wanted to speak with him. Who knows why they were there. In at least one other case, they were embarrassed by Jesus and wanted to take him away. Here, perhaps they wanted to do the same. Or perhaps Jesus was overdue for a family visit and they simply wanted to spend time with him.
But Jesus recognized that his "biological" family was creating a distraction for him, pulling him away from God's work (and God's will for him), which is why he taught that whoever did the will of God was his real family. This was not to distance himself from his family, but to teach us to be focused on the will of God at all times, to avoid distraction from those who are against the will of God, and to welcome in all who follow the will of God as members of our true family, the family of God.
May we focus on the will of God, and work hard to bring others--whether in our immediate families, our extended networks, or our church families--around to the will of God. Then we will be able to celebrate together, as the family of God.