Brothers and Sisters
The most frequent use of the fictive family imagery in the New Testament is the use of “brother” and “sister” to refer to fellow believers. As you may recall from an earlier post, the relationship between siblings was the most intimate of relationships in Greco-Roman culture. It was the relationship with the highest level of trust and the least status differentiation. The usage of this fictive sibling relationship is common throughout the non-Gospel portion of the New Testament (I believe only Titus, 2 and 3 John, Jude and Revelation are without at least one fictive family reference).
The Gospels are a different story. Mark records Jesus’ use of the metaphor only once in relating the story I mentioned in the previous post about Jesus declaring that his family consisted only of those who do the will of God. (3:31-35) Luke has this story also (18:19-21), plus an instance when Jesus was predicting Peter’s denial in 22:31-32:
31"Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers."
John has only one use of this metaphor by Jesus in 20:17:
Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
Matthew has the story related in Mark and Luke about Jesus family being those who do the will of God. (12:46-50) He also has Jesus using this language in the Sermon on the Mount when he is giving instruction about resolving disputes (5:21-26). Dealing with reconciliation again, Matthew relates Jesus teaching as:
“So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart." (18:35)
Children of the one Father
Another way of indicating the fictive family relationship was when Jesus’ referred to his listeners as children of the "Father" or the "heavenly Father." Jesus uses this a little more often the "brother and sister." Mark makes no use of this metaphor at all. Luke uses it a couple of times. Most notably is Luke's rendition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Father, hallowed by your name…” (11:2). Luke also talks about our Father knowing all we need (12:30). John uses “Father” or “the Father” repeatedly, but it is used as a title or as a counterpart to Jesus as the Son. Only after the resurrection, in 20:17 noted above, does Jesus make explicit acknowledgement of us being children of “the Father”: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Then in verse 21 Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus is the model son we are to emulate. As God sent his Son into the world so does he send his sons and daughters sent into the world.
It is Matthew who most frequently records this metaphor. Jesus uses it more than a dozen times during the Sermon on the Mount alone, which also includes the more familiar version of the Lord’s Prayer (Chapters 5-7). Jesus assures his follows that when they are persecuted, the Spirit of “your Father” will be speaking through them. (10:20) He assures his follower that "your Father" watches over them. (10:29) Jesus’ followers will shine in the sun of “the kingdom of their Father.” (13:43) “Your Father” rejoices when a lost sheep is found. (18:14) The final mention is in 23:1-12:
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. 6 They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, 7 and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father -- the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Verse 9 says we have only one father. If we all have the same father, or paterfamilias, then what is our relationship to each other? Brothers and sisters.
There are some deeper implications as well. Remember that in the obsessively status oriented Greco-Roman world, the sibling relationship was the most egalitarian of all relationships. Harmony and solidarity was expected among brothers. If folks followed Jesus' instruction of sibling relatedness, then status questions would evaporate. In verses 8-12, Jesus rejects all status seeking preoccupations and reiterates his upside down paradigm where the way you get to the top is by going to the very bottom. This is just one way in which the fictive family metaphor regulates the life of the community.
The New Household at Table
There are other less obvious symbols of the New Household. The Last Supper is an important one. Meals were not just about eating in Middle East culture. They were about inclusion and solidarity. The meal of the Last Supper was a celebration of the Passover. How was the Passover celebrated?
Ex 12:3-4, 26-27
3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. … 26 And when your children ask you, 'What do you mean by this observance?' 27 you shall say, 'It is the passover sacrifice to the LORD, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.'" And the people bowed down and worshiped.
The Passover meal was one you celebrated within your household. At the Last Supper, Jesus celebrates the meal with his twelve disciples symbolically representing the twelve tribes of the Household of Israel and simultaneously the New Household Jesus was calling into existence.