A lot of attention is paid to the Holy Family, especially at Christmas, and rightfully so. Mary, in particular, gets an extra measure of devotion from both Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
And so today I want to talk about the Holy Family, which is the family of God. I can’t say that I have a lot of insights into what went on in Jesus’ family when He was growing up. I know what you know: about the annunciation of Jesus’ birth to Mary and the humble and faithful way she received news of the great blessing; about the shepherds and angels that attended Jesus’ birth; about Joseph’s great obedience through it all; about the magi who came later; and about that one event in the Temple when Jesus was 12.
So it’s with great interest that I read that Jesus’ family, Mary and Jesus’ brothers, show up unexpectedly to see Jesus. With the special reverence that’s given to Mary by many Christians, we might expect that Jesus would rush to greet her and show her great public reverence.
But strangely, we never actually get to hear what Jesus says to Mary: He doesn’t really seem all that concerned that she’s there. In this story, Mary can wait and is secondary. Secondary to what?
That’s the beautiful part of this little story, tucked away at the end of Matthew 12. What is it that Jesus is so concerned about that He ignores Mary his mother?
The surprising thing is that it’s us! It’s His disciples!
We might expect Jesus to uncross His legs, bound up to a standing position, and go running to meet Mary, leaving His disciples in the lurch.
But He doesn’t. Instead, He answers the one who told him His mother and brothers were waiting outside to speak to Him by saying, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” In other words, Jesus is saying that there is something here that at this moment is more important than His mother, even though she’s Mary.
And then He stretches out His hand toward 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.”
What an astounding statement! Do you see what Jesus has done? He’s elevated us to the position of Mary! He’s placed the will of His perfect heavenly Father above the will of His fallible and earthly mother. This is not to take anything away from Mary or demote her: she’s not really the point in this case: we are.
Jesus’ teaching to His disciples is meant to shock us because what Jesus is, in fact, doing is elevating us to Himself. It’s not that I have a low view of Mary: it’s that I have a high view of what Jesus does for everyone who is truly His disciple, Mary first, but also us if we do the will of the Father. Just as the Holy Spirit entered into Mary, the Holy Spirit enters into us (I’m not suggesting in an identical way). Jesus has raised us up to be members of His family just as important as His mother.
What Jesus is doing is something as miraculous as what God did with Mary when He brought Jesus to her by the Holy Spirit. What Jesus is doing is bringing us to Himself, and therefore to the Father, that we might be one with Him.
What Jesus is doing is bringing us up to heaven with Him, if we will do the will of the Father. He’s telling us that He desires for us to be one with Him as He is one with the Father. How will this happen? The same way that He is one with the Father: by obedience to the will of the Father. That’s what He came to do, and that’s what we are supposed to be doing.
In this passage, therefore, Jesus brings us into His family: the Holy Family. Imagine if you really were one of Jesus’ brothers or sisters in Nazareth! What would it have been like? Wouldn’t it have been great!
Maybe, maybe not. It didn’t do much good to His brothers, who originally didn’t believe in Him.
But we’re dreaming far too small. When I say that Jesus is making us members of His Holy Family, I don’t mean just Mary and Joseph and James, Joses, Simon, and Judas. I mean that He’s making us members of that far greater Holy Family: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
What does it take, therefore, to participate in the life of the Holy Trinity, Jesus’ Holy Family? That’s a question worthy of an answer. It’s a dream too magnificent and blessed to dream, except that Jesus has held it out as our potential reality.“Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
Think about this today: every time you do the will of the Father you are united to the Son and thereby the Holy Trinity. Every time you obey like a son or daughter of God you are a son or daughter of God. Every time you do the will of the Father you demonstrate that you belong to Jesus Christ and are a part of His family.
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I felt very blessed to be a part of the Erlandson family, in which I had two wonderful parents and three wonderful siblings. We enjoyed each other’s company and shared many pleasant and profound experiences. But I’m also part of an even more blessed family: the family of Jesus Christ! That family extends all the way up to heaven where my older brother Jesus prays for me. But it also extends to the hundreds and hundreds of saints in my family that I’ve met so far here on earth and to the millions that I’ve never met, whether part of the Church Militant or part of the Church Triumphant.
Today, this is my motivation for obedience. It’s not the fear of disobedience and punishment that motivates me: it’s the possibility of participating in my Holy Family, the family of God. I will obey today, not out of fear or even duty, but out of the love and joy that comes from being united to God the Father through the Son and by the Spirit.
“Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
Prayer: O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to become utterly forgetful of myself so that I may establish myself in you, as changeless and calm as though my soul were already in eternity. Let nothing disturb my peace nor draw me forth from you, O my unchanging God, but at every moment may I penetrate more deeply into the depths of your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it your heaven, your cherished dwelling-place and the place of your repose. Let me never leave you there alone, but keep me there, wholly attentive, wholly alert in my faith, wholly adoring and fully given up to your creative action.
O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, I long to be the bride of your heart. I long to cover you with glory, to love you even unto death! Yet I sense my powerlessness and beg you to clothe me with yourself. Identify my soul with all the movements of your soul, submerge me, overwhelm me, substitute yourself for me, so that my life may become a reflection of your life. Come into me as Redeemer and as Savior.
O Eternal Word, utterance of my God, I want to spend my life listening to you, to become totally teachable so that I might learn all from you. Through all darkness, all emptiness, all powerlessness, I want to keep my eyes fixed on you and to remain under your great light. O my Beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may never be able to leave your radiance.
Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, overshadow me so that the Word may be, as it were, incarnate again in my soul. May I be for him a new humanity in which he can renew all his mystery.
And you, O Father, bend down towards your poor little creature. Cover her with your shadow, see in her only your beloved son in who you are well pleased.
O my ‘Three’, my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to you as your prey. Immerse yourself in me so that I may be immersed in you until I go to contemplate in your light the abyss of your splendor! Amen. (Elizabeth of the Trinity)
Points for Meditation:
- What are the blessings that result from being part of God’s Holy Family?
- In what ways is God calling you to obey Him that He may make you a part of Him and bless you?
Resolution: I resolve to obey the Father in the one way He has told me to obey today.
Presentation of Christ in the Temple – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License