BEING MEMBERS OF GOD’S FAMILY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Ex 14:21-15:1; Exodus 15; Mt 12:46-50]
In the gospel, Jesus made it clear that obedience to the will of God is paramount in being included in the family of God. “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Doing God’s will implies that we are in union in mind and heart with God. That is why spiritual relationship is much higher than blood relationship. Whilst it is true that people often say that “blood is thicker than water”, meaning that blood relations surpass all other forms of friendship, it might be so when it comes to fulfilling one’s obligations towards members of the family. But in terms of intimacy and friendship, sharing of one’s life and love, many of us find such relationships outside of our family simply because they are non-judgmental, non-obligatory, free and unconditional. The union of mind and heart is often greater and more intense between friends than family members.
The first reading from the book of Exodus, which is read during the Easter Triduum, prefigures Christian Baptism, when we, too, are liberated from our slavery to sin and brought to new life in Christ. The crossing of the red sea symbolizes our death to sin and rising to new life as in the rite of baptism. It was after leaving the desert, witnessing the powers of God in the Ten Plagues afflicted on the Egyptians, climaxing in the crossing of the Red Sea, that the people rendered their faith in God and became the People of God, pledging obedience and allegiance to Him. Only because of a common faith, the motley crowd of people became a nation under the God of Israel. Once formed into a nation called Israel, they were called to live under the covenant of God. The laws were given through Moses so that they could live together in peace and harmony among themselves and their neighbours.
That is why Christians are bound together as a family. Being a Christian is never being alone. When we are baptized, we belong to the larger family of God. The spiritual family takes precedence over the blood family because ultimately, in the next life, we will all be one family of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. Our love will be inclusive and we will love each one, including our loved ones, as much as Christ loves each one of us. This is what baptism does for us. This explains why the Lord Jesus replied, “‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand towards his disciples he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.'”
This, however, is more than mere words and nice sayings; it is truly in fact, not just in name. Jesus is truly our brother and therefore we are brothers and sisters in the Lord. When the hour of glorification came, just before He died, Jesus entrusted His mother to be the mother of all Christians, symbolized in the perfect disciple, John who took her into his home. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.” (Jn 19:26f) After His resurrection, He told the women, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Mt 28:10) In the letter to the Hebrews, the author wrote, “For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, ‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.'”
We who are baptized and now belong to the family of God must begin to live as members of God’s family. This is often forgotten. It is not enough to say that we are brothers and sisters in Christ but live as aliens to each other. We do not treat each other as brothers and sisters. We only pay lip service to this fact. Indeed, many Catholics live as individuals. They do not relate with the family of God. They are uninvolved in the Christian community. They know very few members. They do not bother to reach out beyond their family circle or their circle of friends. They become cliquish, inward-looking and strangers to the rest of the faith community. That is why, during times of trials and confusion, they have no one to turn go except their non-Catholic friends. So, what can they expect but end up more confused, alienated from God and from the Faith. Indeed, those who do not belong to the Faith community risk losing their faith as they have no one to support them in their loneliness, their struggles and disillusionment.
It is important that as disciples, we must belong to the inner circle of Jesus’ family. The narration of this episode in Matthew is not as explicit as St Mark’s when he wrote, “Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.'” (Mk 3:31-35) St Mark underscored those who were outside and those who were inside. Ironically, it appears that His own family and relatives were outside, even though they were related by blood ties, whereas His disciples were on the inside because they listened to the Word of God and obeyed it. It is not enough to stay on the fringe of the Catholic community. By remaining on the outside, we become observers, guests and spectators, not family members.
To be members of a family, it presupposes communication, intimacy, sharing of mind and heart, and sharing of fellowship and meals, of values and culture. This is why the Exodus story, particularly the triumph of Israel over Egypt as they fled into the desert, bound the people together. They shared a common experience of how they were once slaves, and how the Lord delivered them from their enemies through works of power and might, in the Ten Plagues, the Passover, in the spectacular crossing of the Red Sea as they were pursued by the Egyptian army, guided by the Pillar of light and Cloud and in the theophany at Mount Sinai. All these significant moments captured the minds of the fathers of Israel and remained deeply embedded in their hearts and minds. “That day, the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.” Having seen the mercy and the power of God, they reenacted the memorial of the Passover to recall and to make present the salvific events they witnessed, so that the future generation could also enter into this saving event.
As the family of God, it is therefore crucial that we, too, celebrate our Christian salvific experience in Christ’s death and resurrection. The sacrament of baptism, which is our entry into the family of God, needs to be renewed through the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is the celebration of the Eucharist that we recall Christ’s memorial, His passion, death and resurrection, so that we too can partake of this salvific event. This explains why the Church commands that every Catholic must fulfill the Sunday obligation of attending mass on Sunday. But it is more than an obligation, a duty. Rather, it is to remind us of the importance of being connected with Christ at communion and with the Church as the family of God. Unless, we are in communion with Christ and His body, the Church, our family, we will not be truly disciples of our Lord. Receiving communion means to receive our brothers and sisters too!
It is therefore important that we find ways and means to be more and more integrated into the Christian family. We cannot wait for things to happen. Let us take heed of the advice of the author of Hebrews, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:23-25)
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.