If we were to ask any person today what Christians stand for, traditional family values would likely be on their short list. It’s not a bad thing to be known for: fidelity, stability, and love—though never guaranteed in any family, Christian or otherwise—are a basic recipe for human flourishing. And we Christians are not shy about preaching it.
At the center of our preaching is the exemplary model of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We tend to think of them as a perfect family, free from the complexities and difficulties found in ordinary human relationships. Which is why today’s short Gospel is so striking. It reads like Jesus is making a glib comment about his immediate family.
But this is no glib comment. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is presented as one who always speaks intentionally. He was aware of how family lineage and ties formed the bedrock of Jewish society. He knew that, apart from offending his mother, he was challenging one of the traditional family values of his day by preaching a new kind of human relationship that transcends a proclivity for tribalism.
This broader vision of family is our most traditional family value as Christians. We would do well to ask: Who, really, are our mothers and brothers? Who are the people hearing the word of God and acting on it? They may not be people living in a “perfect” family. They may not be in our family. They may not even be in our Church.