conflicting commitments

Many commitments can interfere with our single-minded, whole-hearted following of Jesus. (Two years ago, I titled a journal entry "commitment and compromise.") Yet there is often social pressure to make such commitments, and sometimes they are even promoted as virtues.

One such commitment that I've been pondering lately is the commitment of "stability." The commitment to a specific place or (often more precisely) a specific institution. Current popular writers like Wendell Berry preach the virtue of commitment to a specific locality, to the land especially, but also to the local community, the people there. (This is also a theme emphasized here at Reba Place.) Usually it's presented as an answer to the rootless, lonely drifting so common in our society. And these writers do offer a compelling critique of our times. But I don't think a commitment to stability is the solution—at least that doesn't seem to be what Jesus showed us.

Committed stability is not a new idea, either. St. Benedict introduced a vow of stability in the early days of monasticism (modern writers often refer to his teaching on stability). He had good reasons for wanting his monks to commit to their monastery, many of which are seen as just as important now. From an article on the Rule of St. Benedict:

St. Benedict perceived the necessity for a permanent and uniform rule of government in place of the arbitrary and variable choice of models furnished by the lives and maxims of the Fathers of the Desert. And so we have the characteristic of collectivism, exhibited in his insistence on the common life, as opposed to the individualism of the Egyptian monks.

...To further this aim he introduced the vow of Stability, which becomes the guarantee of success and permanence. It is only another example of the family idea that pervaded the entire Rule, by means of which the members of the community are bound together by a family tie, and each takes upon himself the obligation of persevering in his monastery until death, unless sent elsewhere by his superiors. It secures to the community as a whole, and to every member of it individually, a share in all the fruits that may arise from the labours of each monk, and it gives to each of them that strength and vitality which necessarily result from being one of a united family, all bound in a similar way and all pursuing the same end. Thus, whatever the monk does, he does it not as an independent individual but as part of a larger organization, and the community itself thus becomes one united whole rather than a mere agglomeration of independent members.

The creation of "family ties" seems like a good thing, and does produce more stable, enduring organizations. Which was the reason Benedict invented the vow of stability. But is this what Jesus preached?

Of course family ties already existed in Jesus' time, natural family ties. Yet even these he challenged:
[Jesus'] mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you."

And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Mk 3.31-35)
Did Jesus say this because he wanted new (religious?) families to replace the old? Or is the new family Jesus sees original because it is a single family, not various divided (and competing) clans but one united family under God as Father? With no conflicting commitments or questions of which authority to obey, because there is only one Father, one Master.

Commitments of stability are necessarily commitments to separate, localized "families." They also limit our availability to go wherever, and to whomever, God calls us. Jesus' life (and Paul's, and Abraham's, and most of the prophets') demonstrate the value of this availability and freedom. But I think the bigger problem is the way commitments to place and (limited, localized) community cut us off from the wider community, the one family. And the one Father.