Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Who is my mother and who are my brothers?

Yesterday morning, I was reading from the 12th chapter of the book of Matthew in the Christian Bible. (Matthew was a tax collector who became one of the Lord Jesus’ first disciples). According to Matthew, Jesus was speaking to a crowd when someone told him, “your mother and brothers are waiting outside.” The passage continues:

“He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother and who are my brothers?’ 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.”

My ‘Life Application Study Bible’ explains that “Jesus was not denying his responsibility to is earthy family [but only] pointing out that spiritual relationships are as binding as physical ones.” I have long pondered this passage, and I am not convinced.

Wives and children, mothers and fathers play ambivalent roles in the lives of great religious teachers. We hear little about Jesus’ relationship with his mother, father and brothers in the Holy Bible, though his mother is venerated by Roman Catholics. The Lord Buddha abandoned his wife and young son in his late twenties, to seek enlightenment. Gandhi took a vow of celibacy at about the same age. He remained married but his mission clearly took priority over wife and children. The wife of the Quaker scholar and organizer Rufus Jones died while Jones was traveling, lecturing and organizing. The founder of the Society of Friends, George Fox, married Margaret Fell who, herself, became a great Quaker leader, but there is little evidence that they spent much time together. The rules of monastic orders and the Roman Catholic Priesthood are predicated on the belief that the highest form of religious life can not include a wife and children. I need to devote more time to studying the family life of the Prophet Mohammed, in whose life wives and children do seem to have played more major role.

“Who is my father?”
“Who is my mother?”
“Who are my sisters and brothers?”
“Who are my children and grandchildren.”
“What are my obligations to them, especially when those obligations conflict with other life callings and obligations?”

For one seeking to live a committed life these are questions to ponder. The answers do not seem simple, or easy.

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