During this time of growth in Jesus’ ministry, opposition came from an unexpected source, his own family. His brothers, through misunderstanding or perhaps jealousy decided that Jesus had lost his mind and came to take him away (Mark 3:20-21). Imagine your kid brother announcing that he was going to be President someday. How would you react? Cynicism, criticism, trying to keep him in his place? All of these and more is what Jesus dealt with in His own family.
In the face of this situation, Jesus made a shocking pronouncement: “Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). This weighty declaration forever changes family relationships. Blood is no longer the deepest or most powerful bond. It’s the bond to Jesus. He is creating a whole new family, one that calls for leaving the old family system behind, especially when it is idolized or stands opposed to God’s will. And the one who bonds to Him as a member of His family is the one who seeks and does the will of God, whatever that means. In that radical obedience, we find another family, with Jesus as our elder brother and fellow disciples as brothers and sisters.
But isn’t Jesus being insensitive to families here, and what about the command to honor your mother and father? Here’s the answer: Jesus is not dissolving the family. He is asking us to leave our families so that we can truly be a family.
Every family system is dysfunctional in some way because every family system is corrupted by sin. I know of one family where the father used anger as the primary means of control, leaving a trail of carnage; another that put expectations on one sibling to prop up the rest of the family, expectations that almost broke that person; another that simply didn’t know how to talk about anything beyond trivialities, leaving family members to fend for themselves, and finally another where the mother continually dominated the father always capitulated. Entire family systems can be built around shame, or keeping up the family name, or simply demanding that everyone stay in line.
My own family system was one of a father controlled by work, disconnected from his children and unable to encourage or engage them. In my disgust over him as a teenager, I left for college, hoping never to return home and trying very hard not to be like him. But years later in an argument with my wife over something unrelated, she finished with these words that crushed me: “You are just like your father.” Somehow in all of my running, I had simply repeated the pattern of being tied to work, emotionally distant, and unable to enter into real connections with others. To truly leave my family and follow Jesus, I had to grieve the loss of being fatherless and then confront my father with my anger and sadness. It was a messy business that took lots of conversations and tears. But as we reconciled, I found myself unexpectedly able to become my own man, and then surprise of surprises, I found myself able to love him and even honor him.
All of our stories with our families are different, and the journey will look different for each of us. But only when we leave the false identities that we have inherited, consciously or unconsciously from our families, can we truly take the identity Jesus has for us, and only then can we go back and truly love our parents and our families. Until then we will forever enmeshed in a system that will hamstring us.
But when Jesus enters, He changes everything. He comes to free us.