"who are my brothers?"

Continuing a series from several years ago, on "weak" and "strong" ties in community...

I came across this passage in my reading this morning:
While Jesus was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But to the man who told him he replied, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?"

And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Mt 12.46-50)
I linked to Mark's version of these words a couple days ago, writing about relationships beyond our close circles of "strong ties," and how that made me think of the way Jesus talked about the kingdom of God community. How it went beyond (and superseded) even the strongest family ties.

I've been thinking more about that. There are the weaknesses of "strong tie" communities that I wrote about yesterday; the kingdom of God community doesn't share these weaknesses. But there are also obvious strengths in strong ties. In the paper I referred to yesterday, Mark Granovetter wrote:
Weak ties provide people with access to information and resources beyond those available in their own social circle; but strong ties [provide] greater motivation to be of assistance and are typically more easily available.
I would expect the kingdom of God community to have the strengths of both strong and weak ties, without the weaknesses of either.

Again and again over the past few years, I've argued that our usual model of the close, well-defined, institutional community (whether political, familial, or religious) does not fit Jesus' description of the kingdom of God. Especially in the way these groups find their unity in something that necessarily separates them from others, thus inevitably forming many distinct "bodies" instead of the one Body of Christ, the one kingdom of God.

My best experiences of the kingdom of God have led to an understanding of a single, God-given, God-directed community (very different from, though not physically set apart from the many divided, humanly-instituted, humanly-ruled groups)—a complex interweaving of relationships that is not limited by physical boundaries or institutional membership. This offers the strengths of "weak ties," and is available to us anywhere (not just in one family or neighborhood).

But what about the greatest strength of strong ties, "greater motivation to be of assistance"? Jesus' community offers this also, but it is somewhat different from the motivation seen in most strong tie relationships. It is still the motivation of love, but it is not based on shared blood or shared location or shared history. It is based on a connection that we may not recognize until we encounter one another, the connection in the deepest part of our being—to the one God. "Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother."

I've had the opportunity to experience this in very real ways, on my walks all over the country. People who I never met before embracing me and caring for me as an intimate friend (as is also seen in Jesus' life and ministry, and Paul's). So I know it's not just wishful thinking. It's the truth.