If it is blasphemy to examine the teachings of Jesus Christ in an analytical way, then take the role of Pharisee and call me a blasphemer. But I will go on in spite of your accusations to present Christ’s sayings regarding family relationships, which become quite surprising under close analysis.
In Matthew, we come to understand that Christ’s mission started with the rejection of his family. When his mother and brothers come to see him, he denies their existence.
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, my sister, and my mother.” [Matthew 12:46-50]
Jesus is no respecter of blood relationships. He has erased his mother (the Virgin Mary) from his memory. He publicly disowns his family in front of his disciples and all gathered to hear him. “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Why even remember who they are? Mother, brother—unimportant names defining unspiritual relationships. Forget them. Run away. Jesus has no love for Mary. Imagine how he could have reacted here. Notified of their presence, he could have called them to him and embraced them, as Joseph called his offending brothers to him in Egypt in an act of awesome forgiveness. Jesus could have embraced Mary and told his disciples, love your mother as I love my mother, for she bore the pain of bringing the Son of Man into the world. Instead he denies her. Flouting the 2nd commandment (“honor thy father and mother”) he dishonors her. He dishonors his brothers. He redefines by fiat the boundaries of family, suggesting that blood bonds are irrelevant to God now that His Son is on earth.
Earlier in Matthew Christ presents the basis for his views on family in one of the most striking quotations in the gospels:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother…He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. [Matthew 10:34-37a]
Christ’s sword is not the political warfare of the Zealots; this is domestic warfare. There is a love that bonds a father to his son, a mother to her daughter, a family to itself. Christ comes sword in hand to destroy that love. Christ will turn love into hate, use hate to pull the family apart, and leave the parts by destroying the wholes. Christ needs parts, not wholes. Parts need salvation. The spiritual message is simple: do you want a mother, or do you want a God? Do you want to be sons of God or of some human man or woman? Choose God or family. You cannot have both.
Christ further suggests that we skip our parent’s funerals in Matthew 8:21-22:
Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their dead.”
This exchange perfectly illustrates Christ’s interpretation of the family as his adversary. If he lets his disciple go bury his father, the disciple will never return to follow him. Under Christ’s absolutes, the disciple will have chosen father over God, and will have become unworthy of the salvation of Christ. Christ’s call is infinitely demanding—drop everything and run to me, or stay where you are forever. In Matthew 15, the rich young man hesitates when told he must give away all his possessions before he can follow Christ. That hesitation transforms the young man’s desire to follow Christ into the absurdity of a camel contemplating smooth passage through the eye of a needle. Look now at Christ’s phrasing: “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their dead.” How can the dead bury the dead? Christ is announcing that his presence on earth means all previous norms of obligation must be discarded. There is now only one obligation—that of believer to God, follower to Christ. Not of son to mother, daughter to father, not of living to dead. Bury them? What for? Why perform these pointless rituals when God is here?
In Christ’s eyes the family is a ritual—mired in hypocrisy—as empty of God as the Sanhedrin protocol. Love among family members amounts to paganism, elevating that which is biologically ordained—blood—over that which is spiritually ordained—by God. Christ reminds us that God is still a jealous God. Though he has opened his arms to the Gentiles (in the New Testament), he will have no earthly mothers or fathers put before him. When Christ looks around him at his disciples, strangers picked up along the road, he glories in the holiness of his Son-of-God, Son-of-Man magnetism. Righteous destruction befalls all prior concepts of family. Christ has overcome his blood relations, left them behind like a curse. What was Jesus doing from 12 to 30? Wrestling with God? Yes. But imagine the specifics now. On one arm—mother, brothers—pulling him to the home, enforcing the bond of son to mother, brother to brother. On the other arm God, the Almighty, making his choice of Son from beyond space. Jesus hears God, comprehends the magnitude of what God is saying to him, but looking across the room at his mother, the voice of God loses the terrifying reality it had just a moment ago, and he ignores it. Who is foremost, my earthly Mother, or my heavenly Father? Who am I the Son of? This struggle goes on for years. Finally Christ is able to bring God from beyond space into his brain, so close that God becomes more real than family. Jesus discovers he must abandon one if he is to do the will of the other. Publicly disavowing his mother and his brothers, denying them when they seek him out, denouncing any proximal action based on blood ties, Christ sets the example for us all. Family is a burden, a spiritual hindrance. Run for your spiritual lives!