Shared family

“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mk 3:34-35)

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus is engaged with the crowd around him when his mother and brothers come to visit him. When he speaks, he shows that his sense of family is bigger than those to whom one is related by blood. It’s not just that Jesus has individual friends that he names as family-like: he speaks of the “crowd” as his family. Who counts as kin? Whoever is doing the will of God, the work of God in the world. In other words, it is our common link back to God, our shared Father, that makes us brothers and sisters.

Fr Greg Boyle, SJ, identifies the fruits of service as “kinship’: he says, “service is the hallway that gets us into the banquet hall of kinship.” Although in service work or ministry we might begin with a view of helping or serving others with our own strengths and gifts in mind, over time our relationships become more complex. We discover that those whom we serve have many gifts, too, and that along with the gifts that we bring, come weaknesses. Then the relationships have the opportunity to develop into something more than one person who serves another, into the mutual relationships that exist inside a larger community, a community that we can call family.  When Boyle speaks of his work with Homeboy Industries, a non-profit that assists former gang members in getting back into productive lives and relationships, he clearly understands himself to be a part of a community that is itself empowered to mutually assist its members. This resonates with my own experience of both prison ministry and teaching: in both quite different communities I continue to learn, be challenged, and grow, even though my role and others’ roles differ within the community.

The first reading also points to the importance of being on the receiving end of relationships: we may think with fondness of mentors, spiritual companions, people who have ministered to us so that we could live our lives with greater love and generosity. St Paul is very tender and kind in how he speaks to Timothy, whom he describes as his “dear child.” Paul encourages Timothy to take what he has learned from his time with Paul and to go and live it with courage in his own ministry. We, too, have spiritual fathers and mothers (whether in our blood families or God families) whom we can remember and for whom we can give thanks for their generosity and loving reception of us. As we remember Titus and Timothy, we can also remember our own “St Paul”s.