(Re)Defining Family

A handful of individuals with their backs to the camera hold up their hands in a heart symbol, illuminated by the sun.

BY COURTNEY ESTEVES | June 10, 2024
Sunday’s Readings

In these summer weeks, I find myself mulling over what I found most striking last academic year. Today’s challenging Gospel brought me back to a similarly challenging session in my Introduction to Christian Ethics course this spring. 

Perhaps like you, I am someone who deeply loves my family and dreams of that family expanding. So, I am disoriented by Jesus’ seemingly harsh relations with his biological family in Mark 3, and I was initially put off by my assigned Ethics readings about “abolishing the family.”

A handful of individuals with their backs to the camera hold up their hands in a heart symbol, illuminated by the sun.

Family abolitionists illuminate how families can be places of harm and contend that supporting each other should not be linked exclusively to genetic ties. Religious studies professor Stephanie Mota Thurston synthesizes the work of family abolitionists as “envisioning and creating a world where not only those we love, but especially those who aren’t loved, have the care they need to flourish.” 

Today’s Gospel, in my reading, presents Jesus as someone who, like family abolitionists, is flipping the notion of family on its head.

The passage opens with Jesus “at home” with his disciples, not with his relatives. Some of his relatives comment that he is “out of his mind,” while others remain outside at a distance. In describing his mother and siblings, Jesus does not identify his biological kin who are outside, but rather describes the mixed gathering of people sitting around him. In Jesus’ assessment, “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

I wonder:

-At a time when so many are leveraging “family values” as a political talking point, how might ancient Scripture orient your own relationship to “family values”? 

-Is there an action you can take in the week to care for someone who has a limited (or nonexistent) family network surrounding them?

2 replies
  1. Dr. Eileen Quinn Knight
    Dr. Eileen Quinn Knight says:

    “-Is there an action you can take in the week to care for someone who has a limited (or nonexistent) family network surrounding them?” This is the question Courtney poses to us.
    I live in an area where many (80%) live by themselves. I am aware that often times when they see me at the hospital, school, grocery store or Church, that I might be the only live person they see that day as many still work remotely.. As the Holy Spirit guides me, I listen to what they have to say and move from there to how could I assist the person who has asked me for information or counsel. I try to remember a certain story that will amuse them to begin with. For example, my new grandchild is left-handed so I somethimes investigate with the person left-handedness and then they often steer me to investigate things that really concern them in life. They see my pin for the seminary and ask me about what a seminary is.The next part of the conversation leads to their experience of seminary and the good priests they’ve met in their life and how that priest assisted them in their struggles. We finish up with a note of thanksgiving for the blessings we’ve received in life including this day.

    Reply
  2. Bob Mill
    Bob Mill says:

    Sounds like you were influenced to be a family abolitionist yourself. Do you really believe that because some parents are not very good or even abusive that we should scrap the entire family unit that has formed the foundation for modern and historic civilizations alike, albeit deteriorating during the last half century.
    The love Jesus demonstrated did not exclude the family (like his own) but modeled it for the rest of humanity. Love is not a zero sum affair. And BTW, I learned about this “Jesus” from my family.

    Reply

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