Today we read the famous scene when Mary and Jesus’ relatives come to see Jesus but they can’t get to him because of the crowd. Jesus is told that they are there and then this famous exchange happens:
19 Then his mother and his brethren came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brethren are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he said to them, “My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God AND DO IT.”
Two things immediately jump out about this passage. First, Jesus considers his followers a family. This is a theme we have touched on before. Christians are not simply a community of believers, we are much more than that, we are God’s family. We have touched on the incredible process that makes this truth a reality. Jesus and the Bible teach us that we are one body. Jesus will say to his disciples “He who hears you, hears ME.” In speaking of the poor he says, “And the King will answer them, “’Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to ME.” (Mat 25:40). Before his conversion when Paul is persecuting the Church Jesus says to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME.”
One thing to keep in mind in our understanding of God is that he has no boundaries, no beginning and no end, no here and no there, etc. We see this in Jesus concept and articulation of the relationship between his followers. There are no boundaries between Jesus and one of his followers. That implies your relationships with your Christian brothers and sisters, is as important as your relationship to Christ. If Jesus has removed the distinction between Himself and the Christian next to you then your relationship to that other person is the same as relating to Jesus himself.
This raises a challenging question. Where is the line? Since every living person has the light of God in them is a Tibetan Buddhist as much my brother as the Christian sitting next to me in Church? The answer is: in some ways Yes and someway No. Certainly, Jesus would see no distinction. However, he’s God and capable of effortlessly getting past the human gulfs that divide us. Some people manage to obtain this state in life – Mother Theresa is a good example. In another sense the Christian sitting next to you is “more” you brother or sister than the Tibetan Buddhist because you have both ordered you will and yourselves toward Christ. Further, while God gives a few people the gift of being able to make this journey to complete acceptance of other quickly for most of us it seems to be a process that works over time as an aspect of our sanctification.
This is where the Church’s Eucharistic theology becomes so vital. We all know that food defines family. Experts tell us that eating together is the number one way to keep family life healthy and keep your kids on the right track. We mark the moments of our lives with BBQ’s, birthday cakes, Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas cookies. When we date we go out to dinner, when we get married the new spouses feed each other cake, mothers bond with their infants by feeding them, teens share pizza’s, buddies have beers, when we are old our children feed us.
The bible can be seen a series of stories of one meal leading to another. Adam and Eve ate the fruit. The first punishment God gives them is that now they will have to work to get bread from the earth. Abraham celebrates his victory with Melchizedek offering bread and wine. The Passover lamb must be eaten with unleavened bread. The Old Covenant is confirmed when Moses and the leaders go up Mt. Sinai and eat and drink with God. The Jews eat the manna in the desert. The symbol to show the covenant with God is the Bread of the Presence kept perpetually in the Temple in front of the Ark. Jesus, the bread of life, is placed in a manger, where the creatures come to eat. His first miracle is turning water into wine at the Wedding Feast of Canna. The devil temps Jesus to turn rocks into bread. Jesus feeds the 5,000 with the loaves and the fishes. He eats with prostitutes and tax collectors. He says, “I am the bread of life. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you do not have life within you.” Jesus has a Last Supper with his disciples. When he drinks spoiled wine on the Cross it is only then he says, “it is finished.” In Revelation, we see that heaven is a wedding feast of the Lamb.
In very real way, food and eating, is what defines us as God’s people. And just like Jesus has removed the distinctions between himself and his followers He does not maintain the distinction between Himself and the bread and wine. By removing the distinction between Himself and the bread and wine is how he removes the distinction between Himself and His followers. It’s like a path through the forest, by walking it over and over the path becomes clearer and clearer – more distinct and more defined. By eating of the Body and Blood each week (or even each day) at the Eucharistic table we tread that path in the forest slowly wearing away the distinction between you and Jesus and thereby becoming more Christ like.
Second, notice that just hearing the word of God does not necessarily make you part of the family. Jesus’ brethren are those that hear the word AND DO IT. This corresponds precisely to the parable that was related by Luke in the previous Chapter. Jesus explained the parable:
9 And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.
Hearing the word is of course the essential first step. However, there are things that can frustrate the word from taking hold. These can be summed up as the flesh, the world and the devil. The word is not magic, it does not overwhelm the hearer. The persons who hears must “hold fast [to it] in an honest and good heart”. After doing so they must “bear fruit”. Notice this fruit comes “with patience”, that means it takes time. Again this circles back to Catholic Eucharistic theology. Jesus IS the Word of God. If Jesus is the Word and Jesus is the Bread and Wine then the Word is the Bread and Wine. One can therefore literally “consume the Word”. One can literally imbibe the Word and drink deeply of it. If the hearing of the Word can change you, how much more can consuming the Word order you to God?