We asked yesterday if you could list of what comes to mind when you hear the word “church”. Our lists probably included buildings, events and services. It may have included organ and choir music, stained glass windows, dusty books, bake sales and more. It may evoke good experiences, or bad ones.
But not how the Bible usually sees “church”. Church is described in several cases as a family. This is why our vision is to become a church made up of many groups who are “like family” with one another.
But you might immediately think this means something strange and cultish, usually because our ideas of family today is pretty narrow. We think of family as the nuclear, immediate family in isolation.
But in Jesus’ culture, in some cultures today, and not so long ago in Western culture, the family was the word used more naturally to describe an extended network of relations, often living in the same area.
That was the context for family in Jesus’ day, and Jesus had plans to develop a new kind of extended family. Here’s a striking moment when he described his plans to create an alternate family:
Matthew 12:46-50 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
On the one hand, it seems Jesus just put down his mother. I just saw “Guilt Trip” where Barbra Streisand plays Seth Rogen’s overbearing mother. She calls several times a day, tries to get him to drink water constantly, and so on. In the middle of their road trip, he finally snaps, and tells her off.
It seems like that might be what Jesus is doing to his mother here. Is he putting her down, in his plans to join another family? Look at it another way. Jesus is actually elevating his disciples to family status. His followers, fellow practitioners of his kingdom, are his family.
She’s not excluded. Later in the story of Jesus’ life and death, we see Mary his mother appearing as a devoted member of this extended family, and Jesus even assigns one of the disciples to look after her after his death, saying he’s her new son, and vice versa.
Jesus isn’t narrowing his definition of family to exclude blood relatives. He’s broadening it, to include his extended family of followers as if they are blood relatives.
Question: Imagine your immediate family suddenly adopting a dozen new members. How would it change your way of life? What would be the pros and cons?