Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Jesus the Brother

By Mitchell

Today's Gospel reading was rich in meaning for those willing to dig a bit underneath the surface.

It's the familiar story of how Jesus is told that "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you." He replies, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" He looks around at those who are with him, and says, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Mark 3:31-35)

As Fr. Quinn said this morning, Jesus is telling us that there's more to being a "brother" than mere genetics. This is nothing new to us; we're always joking about how you can pick your friends, but you can't pick your relatives. (On the other hand, blood is thicker than water, which I guess means we're at a cliche standoff.) But the point is there - we may not be genetic "brothers" of Jesus (as, in fact, the relatives mentioned in the Gospel were most certainly not actual brothers of His, but were most likely cousins or other relatives), but just as we inherit sonship through our devotion to the Father, we also become brothers and sisters of His Son.

And I wonder if this isn't where we get into a little trouble nowadays. It seems to me as if we look at Jesus more and more often today as a "friend." Which He is, I hasten to add. But there's a difference between being someone's best friend and their brother. Sometimes it's a big difference. We may tell our friends that we want them to be honest with us, to be blunt even if it hurts; but let's face it, most of the time when we confide something to a friend we're really looking for some type of reinforcement. Many's the friendship that has gone by-the-by when one friend has dared to tell the truth to the other.

A brother, on the other hand - especially a big brother - often feels an obligation to steer the younger sibling in the right direction, to point to a certain path of behavior. The younger brother or sister might resent this at the time, even rebel against it (being an only child, I have no first-hand experience with this), but in time the attitude softens. Siblings may fight tooth-and-nail with each other, but they'll usually unite against someone from outside the family who seeks to cause harm.

And here's the crux of my point - nowadays it's undrerstandable that we might prefer the thought of Jesus as our Best Friend. No matter what we do, our best friends will find a way to tell us it wasn't our fault, that we were right to think or act the way we did, that we should just have a bowl of ice cream and forget about it. And that's what Jesus-as-friend represents to us - a big hug, a boost of self-esteem, and Communion on Sunday so we can feel good about ourselves. Who could ask for anything more?

Of course, He might not do what Jesus the brother would do - correct us when we make a mistake, try to show us the right way of doing things, cuff us around the ears once in a while when we deserve it. Jesus the Brother loves us, too, just like Jesus the Friend - so much, in fact, that He'll occasionally do something or allow something to happen that we just can't understand. And we think to ourselves, "Why would Someone Who calls Himself our friend do this to me? Why won't He just tell me everything's all right?"

Again, mistake me not - Jesus is our friend. He is the best friend any of us will ever have. But we're wrong to forget that other part of the equation - Jesus as our brother. For it is the firm guiding hand of our Brother, doing His Father's work and leading us always closer to Him, that is the ultimate proof of His love for us.

Don't settle for cheap imitations - in this Oprahfied culture of ours, when someone offers you Jesus the Friend, remember that you can get two-for-one: Jesus the Brother and Jesus the Friend. For "Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother."

And friend.

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