A crowd was sitting around Jesus; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ (Mark 3:32-33)
Last fall, a woman who had recently joined our parish was speaking about her experience here, and she said, “I thought I was joining a church; I did not realize that I was getting a whole new family.” At its best, that’s what church is: a whole circle of people who accept you as you are and love you into wholeness.
Who are your family? For most of us, family comes in two kinds: the people to whom we are related by blood, and the people whom we choose for our selves. The family we are born with teach us much — sometimes, about love and nurture, and sometimes, about sticking with people even when our values don’t agree or when our behavior falls far short of ideal. Sometimes, they teach us primarily about failing one another.
The family we choose for ourselves — the friends of our right hand — are different. They are almost always people whom we admire, people whose advice we willingly seek, people who support our goals and will cheer us on. If your birth-family was warm and loving, these relationships are gravy. If it was not, they can become the bedrock in which you root your life.
Today is the Feast of St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Scripture does not tell us much about him — only that he was a good man, and that he was a carpenter. The most important thing we are left to infer: that if God chose him to raise God’s only son, that implies a lot. Joseph must have been a man of deep faith, a courageous man who could learn that his fiancee was pregnant and still stick by her, a man whose heart was large enough to welcome the child who was not his own. We know that if Jesus grew to be a compassionate, wise, and honest man, he almost certainly learned that from Joseph.
And he learned one thing more: that sometimes the people who matter most in your life are people upon whom you have no earthly claim, but who give you their hearts as a free gift. The early Christians had a word for it: grace. The gift you received, not because you deserved it, but because it was the giver’s nature to love.
In the last few weeks, a number of our parish elders have died. These are people who were more than neighbors to many within our church; they were mentors, role models, counsellors — for many, almost like another set of parents or grandparents, ones we got to choose for our selves. They were a solid presence in our lives, a bulwark of support and kindness and mercy. It makes the grief all the harder when it comes.
But even the grief is grace. It shows us where our love has been given and received. It helps us to understand the depth of our relationships, the ties that bind us to one another. It shows us how God can make strangers into family, even in the worst of times.
When Jesus’ family come to seek him, Jesus asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And then he answers his own question: Looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)
Give thanks today for the brothers and sisters and parents of your heart. Tell them how much they mean to you. As Amiel wrote, “Life is short, and we never have too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind!” And if there is someone out there who needs you in his or her life, take time to be their family, too.