When I was young, sibling arguments were a common occurrence. We mostly argued and fought with our words. We never tried to physically harm each other, at least not on purpose, which meant we wouldn’t punch each other or choke one another. That was more of an unspoken code. The most physical things got was a push or harmless wrestling. But I remember one argument to be very different than the norm. I had gotten into a heated disagreement with my younger brother and pushed him as I walked away. I was halfway down the hall when I heard something zip by my ear and hit our back door with surprising violence. Turns out my brother had thrown a D-size battery at my head. This was a breach of the unspoken code because of the potential of bodily harm. Normally this would lead to more pushing and shoving and some type of submission hold on my younger, weaker sibling that coerced an apology. And somewhere in this, feelings would be hurt more, our parents would step in with swift discipline and we would revile each other for it all. But the beauty of it all was that it usually took no more than a few hours before we began playing with each other again. And by the next day we were joking about the whole incident.
Moments like this were common among me and my brothers. Moments not as violent but equally violating. And at the end of it all we were brothers, and we always found our way back to that bond. No matter what tangent our relationship took we would always return to the root of our relationship. Family.
This fact has been one of the most profound challenges of my Christian walk. This idea of family. In Matthew 12 when Jesus was teaching a crowd and was told that his mother and brothers were outside and wanted to talk to him, Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Similar language is in Luke 8. Also if you study Jesus’ interactions with Judas you see him give him many chances to show his allegiance to the messiah and turn away from his plans of betrayal. The way he engages Judas’ betrayal is as if Jesus considered Judas to be his brother.
I believe being a Christian means we pursue familial bonds and a credible threat to the strength of the Church is the thought of our faith requiring us to be friends not family. I believe the difference between friends and family is a great chasm that has to addressed. For instance, a friendship is often optional. You can choose who you will be close friends with and who you will be distant friends with. And broken friendships are accepted as normal and not tragic. But family, in contrast, is never really optional, you can never really distance yourself from family bonds, even if you don’t share a relationship you are still family. And broken families are always tragic. Family is a lifelong connection that can be mangled but never completely severed.
What if this is what God meant for us to be when we said yes to him? Maybe being adopted into the family of God is a call to truly consider other believers family. Do you consider your local congregation family?
In the black church this tends to be our disposition. But our disposition can become fuzzy when we cross ethnic lines. We are hesitant to submit to God’s call to family because the pathway to family is littered with stereotypes, ethnocentrism, historic spiritual barriers, family affirmed prejudices, and low grade apathy. It’s time to clear the path so that we and those who come after us can have a clear and inviting path to a family that reflects heaven. So how do we do this? Here lies the catch. Your familial connection does not depend on others.
Those you consider family do not have to consider you family. In Matthew 12, I am pretty sure it surprised the disciples that Jesus would make his family wait and also, in front of everyone, include them in his family. I believe it was because Jesus considered them to be equal to His immediate family although the disciples were unaware of this truth and most likely didn’t fully understand what Jesus meant. Nevertheless, Jesus showed his disciples what he meant by laying down his life for them day in and day out. Because they were family.
Jesus’ example is not easy to follow but it is possible. But we must understand that familial love is established by God. And we cannot produce on our own, we have to ask for it as we pursue it out of reverence and love for Jesus. In God we truly have more Mothers and Brothers and Fathers and Sisters than we had outside of a relationship with him. We just need to fight for them. This is what families do. We fight to hold them together. We fight for each other.