Jesus’s surprising embrace of family
Familialism, family, and discipleship in the Gospels
Keywords:Jesus, Gospels, familialism, discipleship, family
North American Christians seeking religious revival can find familial language in Scripture a compelling starting point. Shedding an old family and stepping into a new one is a powerful idea for those desiring radical community, and it is an idea Jesus seems to promote at length. It is concerning, however, that encouraging followers to separate from their existing families is also a tactic abusive leaders can use to isolate vulnerable people. Is this what Jesus was doing when he said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters . . . cannot be my disciple”? On their own, these words can become manipulative, and Jesus’s teachings on family have indeed been weaponized by exploitative cults. Given the damaging potential of misinterpreting Jesus’s message, clarifying the relationship between Jesus, discipleship, and family is crucial.
In order to understand Jesus’s emphasis on discipleship as a new family, we have to consider the culture of familialism that shaped first-century Judea. Family’s place at the center of socioeconomic life in Jesus’s time and place means family imagery in his context promotes engagement in a new, public form of community, not a retreat into an isolated group. Jesus explicitly endorses connections with existing kin, except when those connections directly interfere with the demands of mission.
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Copyright by Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Canadian Mennonite University.