My Next of Kin
By Linda Rex
When I was growing up, I believed I had very few relatives. I vaguely remember meeting my grandparents when I was little and a couple aunts and uncles and cousins on occasion, but the first time I recall meeting any significant number of my relations was when I was thirteen. Even then, I had no grasp of what it meant to be a part of an extended family with all the relational dynamics that go with it.
It wasn’t until I began dating my husband to be and I married into his family that I began to experience what it is like to be a part of an extended family who lived within the confines of a small community. I remember on drives around the local area, they would point out a significant number of relations of theirs, whether near relations or shirt-tail relations, and they would tell me a little about each of these relatives’ particular story. I was amazed to see who was related to whom and found myself quite nervous about possibly saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and creating a relational and community disaster in the process.
This type of community and family situation is much like the one Jesus grew up in. In Nazareth, no doubt, everyone knew everyone else, and their relationships were all intertwined as children grew up together, married and had children who repeated the process. In his day the family and continuation of the family line were of paramount importance. As the elder son he had responsibilities to his family which he was expected to fulfill, and part of those involved having a sense of loyalty to his family and a commitment to their goals and expectations.
However, early on, beginning with his experience at the temple when he was twelve, we see Jesus beginning to differentiate between his relationship with his parents and his family, and his relationship with his heavenly Father in the Spirit. He may have helped his mother with the wine supply issue at a local wedding, but he did so in such a way that reminded her and others of who he was as the Messiah. It must have been very hard for Mary to have her dear son draw this kind of a line in her relationship with him, but we see from early church history that eventually she understood and accepted the reality of who he really was.
Jesus’ family was not always supportive of his ministry. In fact, at one point they tried to force him to come with them and said, in effect, “You are out of your mind!” Then there was the time when Jesus was speaking to the crowds and his family came to see him. Someone told him they were outside waiting to speak with him and he replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Talk about a slap in the face!
But he wasn’t trying to be insulting. Instead, he was making a point about the centrality of relationships to the gospel—that we are all related to the Father through him in the Spirit. He is the Son of the heavenly Father, and those who live in the same perichoretic, mutually submissive, harmonic manner in which the Father and Son live in the Spirit, are his close relatives—his next of kin.
There are benefits to being Jesus’ next of kin, you know. One of the significant reasons this is a good thing is because Jesus, being our next of kin due to sharing in our humanity, has the right of redemption.
The people of Israel understood what it meant to be a close kinsman with the right of redemption. That meant that when a person lost property due to debt or lack of heirs, the kinsman could and often would buy it back for them—it was not supposed to be allowed to go into anyone else’s permanent possession—it was supposed to stay in the family. The story of Ruth gives a good description of what it was like to have a near relative redeem your land which you lost due to not having heirs to give it to.
God created you and me to bear the image of the Father, Son and Spirit. We chose instead to define our own image of God, and to follow our own way of being instead of reflecting the Being of the living God. In many ways we did, have and still do damage to our inheritance as God’s children, and have incurred tremendous physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual consequences we seem to only be making worse as time goes along. Our debts to God are impossible to pay, both collectively and individually, especially since we refuse to quit incurring them.
It is instructive that God’s way of entering into our impossible situation was to join us with himself by taking on our humanity. He became as closely related to us as he could possibly be. He became our nearest relative by sharing with us in our human existence—joining with his creation as a creature in human flesh (John 1:14; Heb. 2:11, 14-15, 17). He even did this to the extent that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:12). Now that is taking his kinship to us seriously!
Being fully human as we are human does not in any way diminish Jesus’ divinity. Rather, it is the tension of the two—that Jesus is both fully human and divine—that enables Jesus to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.
As your closest kinsman and mine, Jesus bought back our inheritance as God’s adopted children. Running out to meet us as his prodigal children, in Jesus the Father welcomes us home and is throwing us a great celebration. All that he has is ours in the gift of the Spirit—the indwelling Christ lives the life in us by the Spirit we were created to live as we respond to him in faith.
Some of us were not blessed with big happy families to include us and to surround us with love. For many of us being a part of our family of origin has not been a blessing or a joyful experience. The miracle of God’s grace to us in Christ is that we are all included in God’s family.
And God meant for those who believe to live together in such a way that they reflect the divine life and love, and become a family of love and grace who embraces the lost, lonely, broken and needy people who are looking for a home. If God can embrace and welcome broken, sinful humanity into his family by sharing in our broken, sinful flesh, and living and dying for us, how can we do any less for others?
Perhaps it is time that we stop the “us and them” way of thinking, and start practicing the reality formed in Christ that we are all “members of one another” (Eph. 4:25) We are all brothers, sisters and mothers in Christ, children of the Father, bound together in the Spirit. We are all kinfolk. Perhaps if we believed and behaved according to the truth of who we really are as God’s beloved, adopted and redeemed children, we might find the world becoming an entirely different place in which to live.
Heavenly Father, thank you that you have given us your Son to share in our humanity and to redeem us and bring us back into the right relationship with you which you foreordained for us to have before time began. Forgive us that too often we ignore and hide ourselves away from you and from each other. Grant us the grace to live according to the truth that we are your beloved, redeemed children made to reflect your image, and that we are all joined to one another in Jesus Christ. May we love others as you have loved us, through Christ and in your Spirit. Amen.
“While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.’” Matthew 12:46–50 NASB
Thoughts On Being a Father
by Linda Rex
Father’s Day is approaching and I’ve been thinking about fathers and manhood, and this thing called being a father to a child. Last night I saw a new car ad where this intrepid father was continually saving his son from imminent disaster. The ultimate save came while his son was gazing awestruck at a cute girl—the car stopped by itself rather than running into the back of another car.
Great car technology—but I’m not sure about the fatherhood part of the ad. To me it somehow seems wrong that the one person in the family whose natural instinct is to teach boys how to take risks and to attempt dangerous things is the one who’s constantly trying to rescue his son from disaster.
I wonder sometimes if many of us have become too “civilized.” We can be so busy protecting ourselves and/or others from every possible danger that we begin to lose our humanity. Our lives become almost artificial—distanced from the beauty and wonder of all that God created for our enjoyment and blessing. We are so jaded and bored and numb that we even find ways to create pain or passion so that we can feel somewhat alive, at least for a moment or two. And our relationships with one another are too often just as inhuman and dead.
That brings me back to fatherhood. True fatherhood draws its nature from God and his Fatherhood and not the other way around. Unlike human fathers, God the Father does not have a consort or female counterpart. He is the Father of the eternally begotten Son of God and always has been. From him and through the Son proceeds the Holy Spirit, eternally. The Father is not the Son and is not the Spirit, yet he is one with the Son and the Spirit.
God is a relational being—he is defined by his relationships. Humans, made in the image of God, were created for relationship—with God and with each other. As humans, we are also defined by our relationships—we are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, aunts, etc.
When we read what Jesus Christ taught us about his heavenly Father we are being given an insight into a relationship that existed before our human time began. The Son of God took on human flesh and in that human flesh, his relationship with his Father continued. Here are some things we can learn from him about his father/son relationship:
- Jesus (the Son) and his Father are one (a unity, an essence) (John 10:30)
- Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus, so Jesus does whatever the Father does (John 10:37-38)
- The Father knows the Son intimately and the Son knows the Father intimately, (John 10:15) so whoever knows the Son, knows the Father (John 14:7)
- The Father loves the Son because the Son’s heart is self-sacrificing and loving (John 10:17)
- The Father glorifies Jesus (John 8:54) Jesus glorifies the Father (John 7:18)
- The Father sent his Son Jesus, and did not leave him alone, but was with him, because Jesus always did what pleased his Father (John 8:29, 42)
- Jesus (as God in human flesh) did not act on his own initiative but spoke what the Father taught him to speak (John 8:28)
- Knowing Jesus means knowing the Father—you see One, you see the Other (John 8:19)
- The sustenance of the Son is to do the will of the Father (John 4:34)
- All that the Father has is the Son’s (John 16:15)
- The Father has given Jesus his name (John 17:11-12)
It would be difficult to find a human father/child relationship that reflected such oneness, love and unity. We tend to prize our individuality rather than our oneness and we tend to prize our privacy and separateness rather than our openness and transparency. We want to make a name for ourselves, not being content to just bear our father’s name (perhaps for good reason). We let pride or fear or shame get in the way of our relationships with those we love.
As I learn about the nature of God as Father, I find that he is a Father who takes great risks for the sake of having a close relationship with each one of us. The greatest risk he takes is in giving you and me and every human who has ever lived the freedom to choose to love him or reject him. He wants each of us to choose to love him freely, of our own volition, because we want to.
And he knew that giving us that freedom meant he would have to give his Son to us as a gift—the gift through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Whatever it cost him, the Father gave his all, his best, to us in his great love for us.
He’s adopted us as his children. He’s made a place for us in his life and in his relationship of love as Father, Son and Spirit. He knows us intimately and invites us to know him intimately. He has given us his name—we are made in his image, to reflect him. He has shared his glory with us. He has gone all the way—done everything he possibly could to win our love. Now it’s up to us—what will our response be?
And what about those of us who are fathers? Have you ever thought about what it means to be a father and what it means to take the ultimate risk of loving freely, fully, completely without any assurance of being loved in return? Have you ever poured yourself out so completely for your child(ren) in the face of their rejection that it seems there is nothing left?
All that you do as a father is a participation in the Fatherhood of God. You are not alone—God was a Father first and he has included you in that by allowing you to be a father too. Look to him and lean on him, as a son with a father. Let him lead and guide you, and fill you with his perfect love. He, as your Father, will enable you to be the father he created you to be. Trust him to do it and he will.
Thank you, God, for being our Father—our Daddy-God, who loves us completely, perfectly and joyfully. Thank you for giving us fathers who can participate in your fatherhood and so share your perfect family life with their families through Christ in the Spirit. We trust you to heal, comfort and strengthen all those who are fathers that they may fulfill their calling to lead and parent their children. And we trust you to comfort and heal those who have lost their fathers, or who have been deeply wounded by those who should have protected and cared for them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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