In light of the latest events in Washington, today’s Gospel is especially timely. No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s impossible not to wonder what could bring so many people-from so many walks of life-together in peaceful unity. Today’s readings might give us a clue.
My thoughts about this Gospel have transformed over the years. It used to sting a bit whenever I thought about Jesus acting so indifferent to the fact that his "mother and brothers" were stuck outside the crowds wanting to speak to him. Looking around, Jesus rhetorically asks; "Who are my mother and my brothers?" But I don’t believe this is Jesus being callus or unfeeling about his familial relationships.
Here Jesus takes the opportunity to teach us about the importance of a spiritual family-perhaps not one you were born into, but a real family nonetheless-one formed by the shared belief in Christ. Jesus looks out and proclaims: "whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother." As Christians, we are called the family of God. By talking in these terms of brothers and sisters, Jesus demonstrates the importance of following him. We can all understand the closeness within our own families. Christ shares this same intimate bond with those who believe and follow him.
There is a bit of a catch, however. Christ embraces a family far beyond those with whom he shares blood, but this invitation does not include just anyone. Only those who do the will of God can be called brothers and sisters of Christ. So, we have to ask ourselves the difficult question whether, in our own lives, we have accepted Christ’s invitation to join his family by doing the will of the Father. The good news is that, if the answer is not what we had hoped, there is still time to accept the call.
The passage from Hebrews echoes this message. It’s not outward, superficial sacrifices that the Father wants. God is not impressed with "sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings." That was the old way, before the Father sent his only son to be offered as a sacrifice for all humankind. The Old Testament sacrifices were imperfect, a shadow of the true sacrifice that is to do the will of God; "Behold, I have come to do your will." Jesus surrendered to the Father’s will through his death. And in so doing, we have become "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." Now, we are asked each day to make this sacrifice in our own lives-to surrender to the will of God.
So, back to those millions gathered in Washington last week. These were not people joined by blood. They were not really brothers and sisters. But they found a sameness of purpose perhaps in a love of country or a long-fought commitment to civil rights. Surely, they were not all Christians. But their peaceful gathering at such difficult times serves as an example that something even greater than family can bring people together for the common good. Let’s pray that this "something" may be to carry out the will of God.
Marlo Serritella is on the staff at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago, Illinois.