“For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother” (Mark 3:35).
If you are an American citizen, next time you’re out and about, randomly pick two other people besides yourself. Don’t point at them or anything, just visualize, please. Statistically, one of you three can trace your roots to an immigrant who passed through Ellis Island (nyharborparks.org). Over 100 million Americans trace their roots to this spot, where the “poor, tired, huddled masses” entered the “golden door.”
Depending on where you live, and in what period of time you live, lineage can be very important. Where I currently reside, in northern Ohio, lineage is valuable in the sense that it is celebrated. Many of Italian, Greek and Irish descent live here, which means the food and festivals tend to celebrate this heritage. I won’t bother telling you that a Polish Paczki is one of my favorite delights, and that they are prominently featured here this time of year (during the so-called Lenten season, as our little town is known as a Catholic one). The north-central part of West Virginia, where my wife grew up, is rich in Italian heritage. An annual Festival celebrates the same in her native Clarksburg.
In Appalachian Kentucky, where we spent 10 years serving the church, heritage has a different connotation, and importance. Appalachia’s proud, sometimes isolated and usually self-sufficient people are largely of Irish and Scottish descent. It is the land of the Melungeon (modern, Mullins); it is still the land of Hatfields and McCoys; it is the land of my father’s father, a native of Letcher County.
Here, lineage is a gateway to social interaction – and for some, acceptance. Tracing roots is often an introductory part of conversation. The inability to do so may leave you out of the loop. On several occasions, I was thankful my Irish grandfather had worked the McCoy-Elkhorn coal mines, that some of our family had married Flemings, and that the Kelley family cemetery is located in that region.
Probably most akin (yes, that was intentional) to modern Mormons, whose foray into genealogy is the stuff of legend, are the ancient Jews, who were as fastidious about tracing genealogy as anyone, but with better reason. For example, by Law, only Levi’s progenitors could serve as priests in Temple service (Exodus 28:1-43; Numbers 3:5-10). Only descendants of Kohath could carry the holy implements of the tabernacle (Numbers 4:15; 7:9). And the Messiah of Israel had to be a direct descendent of David (1 Kings 9:5; Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 33:17; Luke 1:32).
It should surprise us very little then, that genealogies are more than incidental features of the Old Testament, and are utilized by New Testament writers to establish the case for Jesus. For example, genealogy is called upon by Matthew to demonstrate Jesus’ claim to the Messiah-ship (Matthew 1:1-16). Ironically, the most detailed argument from genealogy concerning Jesus doesn’t come from a Jew, but an assumed Gentile (Luke 3:23-38). But Luke and Matthew simply have a different focus: the former on Joseph as a descendant of David, the latter on Jesus’ lineage through his mother, Mary. In these two genealogies, a unique converging of the lineage of David arises, making possible both Jesus’ physical and legal right to David’s throne through the chosen pair.
However, all of this serves as mere background to illuminate the contrasting point Jesus makes in Mark 3:35. Yes, his earthly family was pressing to see him, to connect with him for some purpose. Yes, his earthly family was important, just like it is for many of us. Yes, his lineage was valuable, and served God’s purposes of fulfilling the prophecies he had given through the prophets concerning his Messiah. But all of that is secondary in the kingdom over which he presides.
Away with genealogies as a basis of social acceptance! Away with blood to determine loyalty!
On the contrary, enter loyalty to God as a mark of relationship.
Enter faithfulness to God, the mark of family.
My bloodline, my family, my genealogy – is the genealogy of faith. One needs no special documentation, no tracing of the past, no calling up of names, to claim their place in God’s family.
Obedience – “whosoever shall do the will of God” – is the test of family. There “is my brother, and my sister, and my mother.” It is those in Christ, “of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Ephesians 4:15), to whom we owe our loyalty.