I recently read A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. The idea of the book that hit me the hardest is that it is often those with whom we are the closest, or at least should be, that elude us:
Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.
As Christians, this sad fact that can actually be instructive.
Our fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, and children may elude us. We may live in a house for years and never feel that they understand us, or that we understand them. The question is, Can we come to terms with such a reality? The life of Jesus points us in the right direction.
For instance, we can read the story of Jesus’ homecoming after beginning his public ministry:
Mark 6:1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.
Notice how Jesus’ description of the rejection and misunderstanding gets narrower and narrower:
A prophet is not without honor, except…
a) in his own hometown…
b) among his relatives and
c) in his own household.
Those who are closest to us elude us. Jesus eluded those who should have known him best.
Another relevant story about the life of Jesus is recounted in all three of the Synoptics. Here is Mark’s version:
Mark 3:31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
There was a time when Jesus’ own family, apparently even including his own mother, did not understand him. Commentators speculate that they were coming to take him home, since he was making an apparent fool of himself.
Jesus’ answer is shocking. He points to his followers as his true family.
This is both sad and amazingly encouraging. It means for us that while those closest to us, who should know us best, often won’t. But God will put fellow believers in our lives who will truly know us, and whom we can truly know. If our family doesn’t know us, he will give us a new family in the church.
I have several ‘mothers and sisters in the Lord’ and even more ‘brothers.’ I have Christian friends who know me much more intimately than anyone in my biological family. “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
Also, Maclean points to the fact that we can continue to love the people that elude us. How? I’ve listened to a Tim Keller sermon on Ephesians 6:1-4 (specifically about honoring your father and your mother) that has helped me in this area. He makes the point that Christians have the glorious opportunity to find in Christ what they feel that they need from parents and brothers. If Jesus leads you to a perfect Father, then you can stop demanding perfection from your earthly father. If Jesus is your perfect brother and friend, then he frees you up to stop demanding perfection from earthly brothers and friends. We can find our satisfaction in Christ, and then let our imperfect fathers and mothers and brothers be imperfect. Stop demanding that they be gods. Let God be God.
By the way, make sure Jesus doesn’t elude you, even if you already believe him to be close. Without knowledge of him, and his knowledge of you, all of this is moot.