Reflections

God’s Family First

The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him
but were unable to join him because of the crowd.

He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.”

He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers
are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

I have to admit, being a seminarian feels a lot like today’s gospel passage. Sometimes I feel like my family is “waiting outside to see me,” while I focus on discerning my vocation to the priesthood.

And I’m not going to lie — it’s been pretty hard for my mom. She’ll often say to me: “Anthony, I feel like I never see you anymore! I miss you!” It hurts to hear her say that, but on another level, I can’t let that change anything. I have to “leave her waiting outside” in a way. Of course, she understands that I’m trying my best to do what God is asking from me, but that doesn’t make it any easier for her. She’s had to learn how to accept this new lifestyle, trusting that God is in control and always knows what’s best. In a real way, she’s had to let go of me, so that I can act on God’s word.

I share this example with you because I think it gets to the heart of what Jesus is teaching us:

We need to belong to God’s family first. Then we can love our own family in the right way.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus says those incredibly hard and confusing words: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” 

Yikes.

What is Jesus driving at? Do we really need to abandon our family ties to be his disciples? Not at all. Again, he’s simply putting our family bonds within their proper context:

Belong to God’s family first. Then you’ll be able to love your own family in the right way.

This reminds me of a chapter from CS Lewis’ wonderful book The Great Divorce. If you’ve never heard of the book before, the basic premise is that souls in hell (or wherever) take a bus ride to “visit Heaven” so they can decide whether or not they’d like to stay there. One chapter depicts an absolutely desperate mother who insists on seeing her son. Here’s a selection from her conversation:

Give me my boy. Do you hear? I don’t care about all your rules and regulations. I don’t believe in a God who keeps mother and son apart. I believe in a God of Love. No one has a right to come between me and my son. Not even God. Tell Him that to His face. I want my boy, and I mean to have him. He is mine, do you understand? Mine, mine, mine, for ever and ever.

This mother is so consumed with reuniting with her son, that she would drag him back to hell with her if she had to. Hers was not true love, because she did not belong to God first and foremost. She belonged to her son first, and God second — and that fact ultimately prevented her from enjoying eternity with her son. That’s what’s at stake here!

In contrast, how does Mary choose to respond to Jesus’ words and actions from today’s Gospel? The sacred author doesn’t tell us anything specifically, but we can safely say that she didn’t feel snubbed in the least. Instead, she pondered all these things in her heart as she always did.

Our Blessed Mother was willing to let go of her son with unparalleled faith and trust. Mary could do this because she belonged to God’s family first. She heard God’s word and acted on it.

We all need to become more like Mary. We need to get to know her better. She’s the pattern and the model for belonging to God’s family. Only in light of that fact can we then love our family members in the right way.

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