Joseph Hellerman writes in The Ancient Church as Family:
Jesus’ idea of community expanded upon traditional Israelite and Judean models of surrogate kinship in the following three ways:
1. The kinship metaphor is significantly more pervasive in Jesus’ teaching than it is in the Old Testament and Second Temple Literature.
2. PKG [patrilineal kinship group] solidarity finds more consistent expression among the followers of Jesus than among the Israelites and Second Temple Judeans who were not close blood relatives.
3. Jesus emphasized the idea of an exchange of loyalties to a much greater degree and in a much more radical fashion than is the case in the contemporary and earlier Israelite literature. (70)
Here is a sampling of the way Jesus uses the metaphor of family and household.
What Constitutes Family Membership?
Early in Mark’s gospel is recorded this encounter of Jesus with his earthly family:
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." 33 And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." (NRSV) (See also Matthew 12:46-50)
The record in the synoptic gospels of Jesus calling his disciples to follow him is usually answered by the disciples immediately abandoning their family situations to follow Jesus. At the end of the story about the Rich Man in Mark 10:28-31, we find this passage.
28 Peter began to say to him, "Look, we have left everything and followed you." 29 Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age -- houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions -- and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." (See also Luke 18:28-30)
Notice an important difference between the two lists of family members. What has been lost, (“house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields”) versus what will be gained (“houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields”)? Father is omitted from what will be gained. Why? Because as members of the new fictive family, we have already gained a father. God is the paterfamilias of the coming household and we are all his children within the new household.
The Impact of Jesus’ New Family on the Present Age
Jesus’ new household upends and radically redefines life in the present age. Describing his return in Luke 17:26-31, Jesus says:
26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them 30 -- it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.
They were “were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building” and “marrying and being given in marriage.” Jesus abruptly breaks with the status quo of life and ushers in something new. To the degree we exhibit the coming kingdom in the present we create radical disturbances.
51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
Joseph Hellerman makes much of Jesus’ remarks in Matthew 8:21-22:
21 Another of his disciples said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 22 But Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
Hellerman, following N. T. Wright, suggests that Jesus’ demand is so radical that the disciple is not even to return to bury his recently departed father. However, other scholars I have read suggest that this passage is a euphemism for saying, “Let me stay in my father’s household until he passes on. Once he is dead and buried, I will come follow you.” I suspect this second understanding is the correct one but we should not miss the significance of such an act by a son. Sons were to perpetuate the family line and preserve the family estate. Such a son would be abandoning his primary household obligation by leaving his father. I agree that the call is radical, just not in the way Hellerman or Wright may be suggesting.
If the primary role of the son is redefined, then so is the primary role of the daughter. A daughter’s primary worth was in the dowry should could bring to her father’s family and in the alliances she could cement between families through marriage. As a wife, her highest calling was birthing of children, especially sons, who could perpetuate the husband’s family line. In Luke 11:27-28 we find this passage:
27 While he [Jesus] was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" 28 But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!"
Jesus redefines the primary role of women not as bearers of progeny but as disciples who learn and obey the will of God. Look also at Elizabeth’s pronouncement to Mary in Luke 1:41-45. Pay particular attention to the word “blessed”:
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed (eulogeemenee) are you among women, and blessed (eulogeemenos) is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed (markaria) is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."
The term eulogeo carries multiple connotations but in this case it refers to having been a recipient of special attention by God. But the term markaria carries the connotation of acknowledging a spiritual quality someone possesses. The first two instances of blessed essentially tell us who was designated to receive God's favor: Mary and Jesus. But verse 45 tells us why Mary is singled out for favor: she believed God. In other words, what distinguishes Mary is not that she birthed Jesus but that she believed and trusted God. She did so in a circumstance that put her at great risk of being shunned, and even being put to death at the hands of the community, for fornication. It was because of Mary’s exceptional character and discipleship that she was chosen to be Jesus’ mother.