When I was an adolescent, I did not get along with my younger sister and brothers. Actually, much of our time we spent arguing and teasing each other. Living with our parents in a relatively small apartment and having to share rooms, was not really conducive to a peaceful coexistence. Looking back, I am full of admiration for my parents who provided us with a loving home and instilled in us a respect for family bonds. Perhaps like most adolescents, I did not appreciate these family bonds and simply wanted to move out of the family to start my own life. However, the older I get, the stronger the bond with my siblings becomes and the more I value my family.
This came to my mind when reading today’s Gospel of Matthew, which describes an event when Jesus’ mother and brothers wanted to speak with him. His response to their request seems rather rude. He answered them asking "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" Jesus seems to disregard his blood relatives and instead to prioritize the bond among those who follow God’s will: "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother." Like with many of Jesus’ shocking statements, he wants to teach us something, namely that all those who try their best to follow his teaching – which is synonymous with God’s will – share a common bond that is stronger than blood relationships and goes beyond the boundaries of blood relationships.
As followers of Jesus, we are united with people from all walks of life, from every nation, from different ethnic groups. We have a common bond that is rooted in our commitment to follow God’s will. Like in a blood family, we are expected to support each other and be available for each other in times of need. Like in a blood family, we may not always get along well with our brothers and sisters in faith but we nevertheless belong together. The way we express this common bond differs from the way blood relatives are there for each other. Perhaps we personally know some who attend the same parish or belong to the same faith-group, but we will never see most members of God’s family face-to-face. Thus, the dynamics of supporting each other are different from a blood family: Perhaps we need to support our sister parish in a developing country. Perhaps we need to pray for a diocese which faces the threat of political persecution. Perhaps we need to lobby with others so that our political and economic leadership changes policies and practices which contradict God’s will.
Today’s Gospel reading challenges us to reflect on the importance of the common bond of faith, asks us to strengthen our commitment to our worldwide faith family, and motivates us to be creative in finding ways to support our brothers and sisters through faith.
Like in a blood family, we often fail to live up to the ideal of being the family of God and instead live selfish lives. Today’s reading from the book of Micha, one of the Old Testament prophets, reminds us that failure is not the last word: Failure is part of human life. God’s response to our failure is showing us his mercy. The reading tells us of God’s overwhelming and unparalleled forgiveness. He is not angry with us when we fail to follow his will; he “rather delights in clemency.”
Whenever we do not live up to our promises, he will forgive us and “will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.” The burden of our failure is removed and cannot discourage us anymore to support our brothers and sisters through faith.
By Alex Roedlach