Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to see you.” Jesus replied, “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.” [Luke 8:20-21 (NLT)]
Last Sunday, my morning’s Bible reading was Luke 8 and I was again struck by Jesus’ rather brusque words dismissing his mother and brothers. They weren’t really a denial of His earthly family; after all, His last words expressed concern for His mother. He was making the point that His work as Messiah was even more important than blood ties, adding that those who heard and recognized God’s word had a closer link with Him than even His earthly family. Even so, I found His words rather curt and un-Jesus-like.
We were visiting friends so I attended church with our Roman Catholic hosts. Although I’m Protestant, as I read their bulletin and joined in worship, I found we had far more similarities than differences. We said the same creed, recited the same Lord’s Prayer, sang many of the same songs, celebrated communion similarly with bread and wine, and heard words from the same Gospels, Epistles and Psalms. We prayed, praised and worshipped as a family. Like Christian churches everywhere, their parish visits the sick, brings communion to the homebound, has a bereavement group, collects food for the food pantry, and needs volunteers for various church tasks and teachers for Vacation Bible School. I recalled Jesus’ words in Luke and realized I’d been concentrating on His rebuff of relatives rather than the meaning of the rest of His words. Jesus’ family isn’t limited to flesh and blood but includes all those who hear and obey His word. If I am His family, all believers are part of my family! Regardless of their denomination, all Christians are my kinfolk—my brothers and sisters—no matter what house in which they choose to worship.
Later in the day, I finished reading their church bulletin and saw that their “prayer intention” for the month of March was for persecuted Christians that they might be “supported by the prayers and material help of the whole Church.” According to the U. S. Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ. According to Open Doors, 215 million Christians experience high to extreme persecution. Their web site reports that every month, 332 Christians are killed for their faith, 772 forms of violence (i.e. beatings, abductions, torture, and arrest) are committed against Christians, and 214 Christian churches or properties are destroyed.
In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul eloquently points out that Christians are all God’s children, saying that “together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.” He then adds, “But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” [17b-18] If we truly share in His suffering, we also share in the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ. With Paul’s words in mind, I ask Protestants and Catholics alike to abide by Pope Francis’ direction to focus our prayers this month on supporting persecuted Christians everywhere.
We are One in The Spirit, We are One in The Lord. And we pray that all unity may one day be restored. … We will walk with each other, We will walk hand in hand. And together we’ll spread the News that God is in our land. … Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. [From “We are One in the Spirit” (Peter Scholte)]