“Oh NO! Not the family tree scriptures again!” I can almost hear the congregation thinking out loud when we come to portions of the scriptures that have “and so and so begat so and so, and he begat so and so, and …” Just look at today’s Gospel Lesson in Luke 3:23-38, 4:1. Jesus has a real family!
I’ve even been asked “why is that in the Bible?”
The short answer: You can pick your friends, but you’re stuck with your relatives!
Seriously, think about the hard work of being a family. Now expand your understanding of family to include the very real brothers and sisters who are related to you spiritually in the Faith. It isn’t a mistake, nor is it unintentional, that the scriptures over and over again refer to the Church and a Body (“the hand cannot say to the eye ‘I have no need of you'”), as brothers and sisters, the leaders in the Church as fathers, as a Bride adorned for her Bridegroom, and so on.
The concept of the Church as a new family of men and women all working and doing the hard work of communion is replete through the teachings of the Faith. Even our Lord said “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
But being in communion is hard, and I mean really hard. Especially if you take being in communion seriously and abandon the easy and shallow vision of Church that reduces your regular gatherings to nothing more than extended gossip sessions or coffee klatches. If Church is meant to be more than some social gathering, if it really is intended to be the place where serious and purposeful followers of Jesus Christ gather to press out the implications and hard work of communion and learning to be family together, then it shouldn’t surprise us when tough times come.
But just like any family, these moments of conflict invite us to discern whether we are serious about communion or not.
Let’s face it, it’s easier to not do this hard work. In the short term it is so much more pleasant to reduce the Faith to a commodity that we can simply change the brands if we don’t like something. But, in the long run, this reduction of the work of the Faith to preference and ease works against the high calling of Christ in John 17 when He equates the fellowship and closeness of His followers to the closeness and communion that exists between Him and His Father. He says “…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:21
So, the scriptures puts it right in our face! The Lord, in His flesh, has a genealogy. He has a family. He takes His flesh from one of us and He accepts all that entails, even having a family and a family tree that we may not always be proud of! And by doing that He invites us to see beyond the difficulties of being a family to the amazing display of His grace and mercy in creating a family in the first place.
So, if the Lord has a real family and we are now called to have a real family in the faith, how do we move avoid the easy and shallow vision of Church and embrace this full and salvific vision of the Faith that presses us regularly to develop the character of Christ within us?
As with any spiritual work, we have to start by confessing! We embrace what is rather than the twin sources of delusion: “What I am afraid of” AND “What I wish for.” These are our family members. They are – good, bad, or indifferent – my family. Do I wish some of them weren’t? Sometimes, but that isn’t my call. I am called to embrace my family and love them even when they aren’t very lovable. Because sometimes I’m not very lovable either.
Next, I am also called to confess, not their problems, but mine! There is nothing like serious communion to draw to the forefront of my own heart my real spiritual weaknesses. My pride gets confronted. My expectations get tested. And I get asked hard questions about my own life. Far from spending my time analyzing their problems, close communion invites me to see my own spiritual weaknesses and offer them to God to be healed.
Finally, I am called to confess my love and need for my family. The truth is I wouldn’t be the man I am today without my family, both physical and spiritual. Even when it’s been hard, real spiritual benefits have flowed to me from my rubbing shoulders and sharing my life with these precious people. Hard, you bet, but, if I have the courage to see it, every bump has invited me to become more serious about my faith and more insightful about my own weaknesses. I wouldn’t know things about myself if it weren’t for this communion of persons.
So, Today, thank God for your family, especially your spiritual family in the Church. Sure, we have some dark spots in our family tree, but even they assist in making the bright spots all the more bright. Take the irreplaceable opportunity of communion and spiritual family ties to do what Christ did in today’s Gospel Lesson at the end of His family tree – He “was led by the Spirit…” That may mean going into the wilderness, but even there, you will be invited to learn, not the faults of your brothers, but your own.
Today, embrace the courage to do the hard work of communion. The spiritual treasures offered to you today through your communion with real persons is simply too valuable to dismiss.