Text: Matthew 10:34-42
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today in our Gospel reading Jesus said these words: “I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Those are kind of hard words to hear. They aren’t the kind of words we’d expect to hear from Jesus. We would probably expect to hear something a little more family friendly from Jesus than this. When we think of Christianity and the teaching of Jesus family values are probably a big part of that in our minds. Shouldn’t Jesus be telling us to love our family no matter what? Shouldn’t He be reminding us that family comes first? Shouldn’t He tell us that the most important thing is that we stick together as family and stand up for one another?
That’s what we want to hear Jesus say about family and other places in the Bible do say things kind of like that, but Jesus says something very different in our Gospel today. “I have come to divide,” Jesus says. “I will divide children against their parents and parents against their children. Your enemies will be the people in your own house. If you love your family more than me you are not worthy of me.” Wow, that is some serious stuff. What could Jesus be getting at here?
Jesus is not advocating family disruption or violence, He is not encouraging you to hate you family or even asking you to leave your family. He is, however, asking you to think about who your real family is.
We have a picture frame in our living room hanging over our couch. It’s one of those collage kinds of picture frames that you put a bunch of different pictures in. It’s filled with pictures from various stages of the growth of our family. We have wedding pictures in there, baby pictures, baptism pictures, pictures from fun times together, and there is always the potential for new pictures to make their way in. We still have to get a picture of Olivia in there. Every once and a while, as I am wandering around our living room I look up and admire the pictures with a certain sense of pride at the family I have been blessed with.
At my parents’ house they have something similar. On top of the piano in their living room there are many pictures of relatives far and wide. Pictures of my siblings, grandparents, nieces, aunts and uncles, cousins, and many more. Again, when I visit I end up there at the piano at least once admiring the family photos.
I talked to someone not so long ago that doesn’t really have that much family. No children, no living relatives. Not many people whose picture would hang on his wall. This man was not discouraged by this, however, because he had different pictures to hang on his wall. He told me he has a large collection of icons. Icons are pictures of saints, Christians who have died in the faith many of them who did remarkable things in the name of Jesus. This man has these icons, these pictures of saints, hanging on his walls at home. He told me, “They are my family.”
That is a profound thing to say and it is not far off from what Jesus is asking us to think about in our gospel reading today. As Jesus says this stuff about a person’s enemies being the people in his or her own family He is challenging us to see that our brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow Christians, our fellow saints are our true family.
A little bit later in the gospel of Matthew, in chapter 12, we see this reality play out very clearly in Jesus’ own life. Jesus was sitting in a house teaching people and answering questions from people like the scribes and Pharisees one day when His mother Mary and His brothers came looking for Him. They had heard some of the things that Jesus had said and had heard about some of the things that He had been doing and they had concluded that He was out of His mind. They came to the house that day to collect Him and take Him home to Nazareth. When word reached Jesus that His mother and brothers were outside the house looking for Him Jesus responded, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He look around the room where He was sitting and looked at all the people gathered there listening to His words and He said, “Here are my mother and bothers! Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus identifies His real family with these words. His real family are the ones who believe in Him. They do the will of His Father in Heaven. God’s will is that all people would believe and trust in Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life. These people do, they hear Jesus’ Words and the trust in Him, they are His brothers, sisters, and mothers. They are His family.
We who also believe and trust in Jesus are also His family. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus. We are members of the same family, children of the same Father. This is our real family.
We joined our biological earthly families by birth, but we joined this one, eternal family by our rebirth in the water of baptism. We were reborn through that water and were joined into an eternal family, a family that won’t be ripped apart by death, a family that will endure into eternity because this family is founded on the death and resurrection of Jesus that bind us all together in His love. This family will inherit the eternal life that Jesus has won for us.
The reality of this eternal family is what Jesus is trying to draw to our attention in our Gospel reading today. So many things in life distract us from this family, from the family of faith that Jesus has called us into. Some of those things that distract us from this family are inherently evil like hatred and anger, jealousy and frustration, or pride and vanity. Other things that distract us don’t seem evil at all. Family, earthly, biological families, could be an example of that. If our earthly family is coming between us and our family of faith, the family of Jesus, then Jesus calls us here to lay aside even our family relationships for the sake of following Him and being a member of His family.
That’s still hard to hear, isn’t it? Family matters so much to us that we can hardly even imagine what could ever lead us to think of our own family as enemies. This only makes sense if we understand what a precious thing it is to be a member of the family of God through Jesus.
The story of the prodigal son can help us to understand what a precious thing this family is. The prodigal son asked his father for his share of the inheritance so that he could leave his family behind and go live his own life. He wanted to be his own man, live his own life, and do things his own way. Amazingly, the father listened to his son’s request and gave him what he asked for. The son took the inheritance that he was given, sold whatever he could sell, and disappeared to a foreign country with whatever money that he had. Sometime later, when the money was gone that son realized what a foolish thing that he had done. Being his own man, living his own life, and doing things his own way hadn’t paid off that well. He decided to go back to his father’s home and offer to work as a servant. He knew that he did not deserve to be part of the family anymore. But when He arrived home his father messed up all his plans. His father did not want another servant, he did not need a slave living in his house, he wanted a son. So that father rushed out to greet him, threw his arms around him in a warm embrace, sent the servants to fetch fine clothing and jewelry, and threw a fantastic feast to celebrate return of his son. “My son who was lost is found, he was dead but now he is alive again!”
The same is true of us. We all have wandered in sin away from the family of God. We have all acted rebelliously and taken advantage of the loving, caring nature of God our heavenly Father. We have squandered the blessings He pours out on us by chasing after our heart’s desires. By all rights we have no place in God’s family at all. But now, God our heavenly Father has rushed out to us with a warm embrace to welcome us home. By His arms stretched out wide on the cross as He bled and died for the sin and rebellion of the entire world, Jesus gathered us in as His brothers and sisters, children of the Father who is in Heaven. Though we ought to be treated at best as servants who work for their pay our God has welcomed us home as children through the blood of Jesus. This is a precious thing.
Without a doubt, we rejoice in earthly families and in the brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers that God has given us here on this earth. They are a blessing from heaven. We admire the family photos with pride and joy and give thanks to God for what He has given. But even more we rejoice in the heavenly family, the eternal family, the family of God which we have been made members of through the blood of Jesus. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus. Children of God. And we, with all the other members of the family who have gone before us, will live eternally side by side with our brother and Lord, Jesus Christ, in paradise. In His holy name. Amen.