Family First?

Back on Jesus’s last night before the cross (just the night before!), he had washed the disciples’ feet, an act of servanthood that would have shocked his followers. At the end of this display of love, he said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for another.” (John 13:34–35)

In John 17, Jesus prayed this, “I do not ask for these only but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20–21)

Jesus is making us one. We’re being unified in Christ in this beautiful, strange new family. It’s not natural. It’s supernatural.

I read this week about a couple in Michigan that has had thirteen boys. All natural. No girls. Wow! So that’s insane. They have a locker room full of boys. The diversity in this family has to be an all-time low. I’m not disparaging them. I know it’s a ton of hard work. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to live life there.[1] Any family is tough. Kids, obey your parents! Parents don’t exasperate your children!

I also read about a family that has two natural kids and TWENTY adopted ones. They adopted seven of their kids as teenagers, and one as old as twenty years old.[2]

My friend Tracey Zeeck has written a children’s book, The Not In Here Story. It’s about a couple that longed to be like everyone else,  to have a family of their own. They thought a baby was missing from their family, and that it would be as easy as pie to get one. It wasn’t quite as easy as they thought. Things never seemed to work. As the months rolled along, “she didn’t even try to smile. She didn’t feel happy. She felt like no matter where they went or what they did, no baby would ever get in her tummy. That they’d never get rid of this emptyish feeling.”

One day, after a long vacation, Mrs. Seek had a new thought. She thought, “What if Mr. and Mrs. Seek had been looking inside the wrong tummy the whole time? What if their baby was growing inside someone else’s tummy? What if they had been looking in here when they should have been looking in there?”

Families won’t fill us up into being. Husbands won’t. Wives won’t. Jobs and houses won’t. They can’t.

Families are meant to be a blessing to you. They can be. Let’s work that they might be.

However, the good news today is that Jesus can rescue even from your family. He can set you into a new family. He can give you new mothers and fathers. He can give you new brothers and sisters. He can give you new sons and daughters, new aunts and uncles, new grandparents.

The great news is that not everyone has to live with you! That might be a mess. But it’s also true that not everyone will look like you. We’ll be rescued in our baptism from the tyranny of like-ed-ness. We can find a new adopted family that can relieve the pressure to perform, can release us from having to please our parents or compete against our siblings or meet up to expectations. We may have been abandoned or abused or ignored. You know those fights, those disagreements. We’re the older brother or the older sister. We’re Jacob or Esau or Rachel or Leah. It’s rough in families.

Jesus can make us new. He can set us right, even when we’ve messed up. Even when we’ve run away. If we’ve been a bad friend or spouse or parent or sibling. Jesus disrupts us from our families to place us into a new, bigger, wider family.

We may not be able to keep our parents together. We may have to trust Jesus with that. We may have to find friendship from a new sibling, one who gets us but doesn’t look like us. It’s a family of different races, classes, genders and personalities.

Mary’s maternal love gives way to the cross-shaped love of Jesus, who had to die for her sins too. Every mother sins. Every son—but one—sins.

John’s love gives way to the cross-shaped love of Jesus. They’re united together in Christ. It’s a new family, one formed of a transformative love, this new commandment he’s giving to them because he fulfilled it himself. They’re unified in Christ.

This means our home life is to be found at the foot of Jesus’s cross. It’s not about genetic similarity, or soccer teams, or school uniforms, or pledge classes, or neighborhood associations, or political parties. Jesus says we’re brought together by Jesus. We’re all rebels. We’ve yelled to crucify him. We’ve put him there.

It means that our families are not grown in our wombs, but are found in the mysterious, glorious union of adopted sons and daughters, ingrafted into the family of God, given new names, new siblings. We’re not whole in here. We’re not whole in there. We’re found whole in Christ. We can find a family here in his church.

It means the church is not an individualistic health club providing excellent services to each subscribing member. We’re placed into kingdom relationships like John and Mary were. We’re joined together into a new family, one that takes priority even over our own biological ones. That may be shocking to our Western ears, and it was scandalous in Jesus’s time too. It’s not just me and Jesus. It’s us. It’s we. It’s a you plural not a you singular. We’re a covenantal family. Jesus never imagined we could live life with him outside of the church.[3]

We’re brought together in the church by Jesus. We need each other. We’re united to each other, knit together. We need our different voices, genders, skin colors, personalities, languages, gifts and talents, accents, worldviews, abilities, ages, stories and experiences. When we stand there with Jesus, forgiven, with him in paradise, we are the Body of Christ.

We forgive as we are forgiven. We give each other hope that Jesus saves, that eternal life is found in him.

We get placed into a new family by grace in Christ.

What do you think? Family first.



[3] I appreciated the chapter about individualism and collectivism in Richards and O’Brien’s book Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes.