In these Wednesday night services, we’ve been talking about all the things Jesus sacrificed during his time on earth. We’ve talked about how Jesus gave up his life in heaven and gave up his home town. Tonight we talk about something else Jesus gave up: his family.
Now of course, we know that Jesus was truly the Son of God. But still, he had an earthly family, too. There was his mother, Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph. He also had four brothers, who we heard about last week: James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. He also had some sisters, although we’re not told their names. As far as we can tell, they were all living Nazareth, as Jesus did for most of his life. And as we said last week, just like in our South Dakota small towns, a lot of the people who lived in Nazareth were related to each other somehow. So Jesus probably had various cousins, aunts, uncles, and so forth there in Nazareth, too.
Jesus knew that he was the Son of God and that his true Father was in heaven. But still, his earthly family must have meant something to him. After all, he’d known them for all of his life on earth. Mary and Joseph had taken care of him since he was born. You’d think he must have felt close to them. And his brothers and sisters, too--you’d think Jesus would’ve felt some sort of affection for them. Not everybody feels close to their family, of course, but most people do. And with Jesus being fully human as well as fully divine, it seems reasonable to think Jesus would’ve had the same feelings toward his family that most of us humans have.
I wonder, did Jesus’ family know who Jesus really was? Did they know that he was the Messiah, the Savior, the divine Son of God? It seems like Mary should’ve known, at least. After all, before Jesus was even born, the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her who Jesus was going to be. We read that story during Advent every year. Did she tell any of the rest of Jesus’ family about that? Did she tell his brothers and sisters? For that matter, did Jesus ever tell them who he was? I mean, it’s hard to imagine that Jesus would just walk away and leave Nazareth without giving them some sort of explanation. But if he did explain it to them, the Bible does not tell us about it.
Maybe Mary or Jesus did tell them, and they simply did not understand. It would be a pretty hard thing to accept, don’t you think? I mean, if you have brothers or sisters, think about how that would be. This person you’re related to, this person you’ve known all your life, all of a sudden tells you that they’re the divine Son of God? How would you react to that? There were people in my family who were not too sure I knew what I was doing when I told them I was going to go to seminary and become a pastor. I don’t know what they’d have done if I’d claimed to be the divine Son of God. They’d probably have thought I’d gone nuts.
Which, it appears, is exactly what some of Jesus’ family thought. In our first reading for tonight, we’re told that when they heard about what Jesus was doing “they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
That had to be hard on Jesus. He probably understood it, but it still had to be hard. Here he was, doing what he was supposed to do, doing what God wanted him to do. He was trying to save people from the consequences of their sins. And his own family did not believe in him. In fact, they thought he’d gone crazy. I would think that must have really hurt Jesus.
You know, in our society--in most societies, really--we elevate the idea of the family to a really high place. Sometimes we elevate it to the highest place. You’ll hear people say “My family is the most important thing in the world to me.” “I would do anything for my family.” Now, there are families and there are families, and we don’t always honor that high place for family in the way we live our lives. But even if not, we at least honor the idea of the importance of family. If our family is not that way, a lot of times we wish it was.
Now, it’s obviously not wrong to care about your family. But it’s interesting, I think, that Jesus never said that our earthly family should be the most important thing to us. What Jesus said, pretty consistently, is that the most important thing to us should be doing God’s will. And he also said that you and I need to be willing to do what Jesus did. We need to be willing to give up anything, even our family, in order to follow God.
When Jesus’ family came to get him, thinking he was nuts, they could not get through the crowd. So they sent word for someone to tell Jesus they were there. When Jesus hears his mother and brothers are there, he says “Who are my mother and my brothers?...Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
And in our reading from Matthew, Jesus goes even farther. He says, “Everyone who has left...brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children...for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”
There’s a time in Luke where Jesus says something similar, too. In fact, he says it twice. Jesus is trying to get people to follow him. And we read, “He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’
But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’
Now, I don’t think Jesus was telling us that we all need to hate our families. But at the same time, he does not mince words about it, either. No matter how much we may love our families, we need to love God more. No matter how important our families are to us, God needs to be more important. This is not one of those times where Jesus is vague. This is not one of those times where people heard what Jesus said and were not sure what he meant. Maybe it’s partly because of the experience Jesus had with his own family, I don’t know. But Jesus was totally and completely clear about this. Nothing, not even our families, should be as important as God.
How many of us can say that’s true for us? To be honest, I don’t know if I can. I don’t know that I’ve ever been asked to choose between my family and God. I said that some of them wondered if I knew what I was doing when I went to seminary, but none of them opposed me. In fact, once they saw I was committed to doing it they were very supportive. And all of you have been very supportive of me going to see my parents every few weeks, and you’ve done a lot to support Wanda when I have to be gone sometimes. I hope that, if I was put to the test, I would choose God, but I don’t think I can say for sure that I would, because I’ve never been tested.
You see, this is where claiming to be a follower of Jesus gets tricky. Because if we mean it, if we truly say we’re going to follow Jesus, then we need to be willing to do what Jesus did. Jesus was willing to leave his earthly family in order to follow God’s will. And you and I, if we truly are followers of Jesus, need to be willing to do the same if that’s what God wants us to do.
And as I said, I cannot say for sure that I can. I’ve never been tested. But it is something I need to be aware of. It’s something that all of us need to be aware of. Again, the point is not that we should all hate our families. The point is that they should not come before God. Nothing, not even our families, should be as important as God. That was true for Jesus. It needs to be true for you and me, too.
Jesus says, “Follow me.” Jesus says, be willing to leave everything behind to follow me. Jesus says don’t even take time to say good-bye to your family. Follow me. Jesus says if you want to be my brother or my sister, then you need to do God’s will. Whoever does God’s will is my brother or sister.
That’s what Jesus said. I have no reason to think he did not mean it or that he was not serious about it. To be honest, I hope I’m never put to the test on this one. I hope you’re never put to the test, either. But we need to be ready. Because if we ever are put to the test, we need to pass it.