All in the Family

“While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him.  Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’  But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’  And pointing 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 and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50, NRSV)

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“While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing 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 and sister and mother.’” (Matthew 12:46-50, NRSV)

I am the fourth of five children. We had great parents—most of the time. We were great kids—probably only some of the time. There were times for each of my siblings and me when we struggled with our relationships with our parents. Like most of you, when I became a father, I gained a greater understanding of my parents and why they did the things they did. I learned how complicated it could be to both love and discipline a child. I learned how frustrating it is when a child fails to grasp an important lesson on the values a parent tries to instill. And I learned how the responsibilities of parenting might lead to feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Parenting is a tough job, but somebody has to do it!

Imagine how Mary must have felt when Jesus dismissed her in the scripture passage above. Digging deeper into the text, we see the reason Mary and Jesus’ siblings were there. They were there to try to “rein him in” and take him back home. They feared for his life because of his radical teachings. By removing him, they thought they would save his life. Of course, as the future revealed, his family (including his mother and his brother James) became significant figures in the church that formed after his resurrection.

So what can we make of this struggle between Jesus and his family? The goal of any parent is to help their children move toward independence and become successful contributors to society. This process is known as individuation. It’s a painful process for both the child and the parent. It’s where the child develops a sense of distinctive identity as part of a later stage of development that replaces the shared identity of earlier stages of development. In the scripture, Jesus was becoming his own man. Mary was struggling to let him go.

The quality of the parent/child relationship often lies in our ability to navigate the transition from dependence to independence or, put another way, from shared identity to individuation. It’s a delicate balance and one that is more often accomplished awkwardly than seamlessly. That’s why in graduation pictures of parents and their children if you look closely, you can see both pride and fear in the eyes of the graduate’s parents! Happy Mothers’ Day to all who strive to help others grow up. Parenting is a difficult job, but somebody’s got to do it!

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Rev. Dale Cohen
Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church

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