The extended family seated around the dinner table chatters about the day’s events.

A middle-aged man recently released from prison where he served time for fraud expresses cautious optimism about a job interview.

A woman recovering from substance abuse tells the group about her daughter scoring the winning goal in her soccer game.

An older woman struggling with depression smiles with relief when one of the children pulls out a chair and asks her to sit by him.

A young man living with AIDS asks nervously if the others mind if he joins them.

A college student who used to work as an exotic dancer announces she made an A on her latest paper.

People of all ages, races, cultures and backgrounds—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, others—continue to join the meal.

Sound like a typical gathering for Wednesday night church supper? No? Why not?

Welcome to Jesus’ family.

Diverse as the family members seem, differences dissolve because of the more powerful commonality: complete allegiance and total commitment to following Jesus. Our family circle looks drastically different when we define family in Jesus’ terms instead of our own.

Once when someone told Jesus that his mother and siblings were outside the house where he was teaching and wanted to see him, he surprised everyone by asking, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

And then, looking at the group seated around him—a group that included those normally shunned by traditional religion—he said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:35).

Family was important to Jesus, a reality other scriptures support. But nothing was more important to Jesus than doing the will of God. Jesus used this opportunity to teach everyone what constitutes family within God’s kingdom.

In fact, the shared experience of obeying God’s will creates a new family.

Churches often bill themselves as family places and offer opportunities for every member. While this is important, it alone does not create a “family of faith.”

The truth is that Jesus’ faith family includes law-keepers and law-breakers, substances avoiders and substance abusers, the healthy and the hurting. In Jesus’ family we find both those whose past is littered with poor choices and regrets and those whose life seems charmed, people perhaps not so much like us, but maybe not so different from us after all.

Welcome to Jesus’ family. Once you’ve found your place at the table, pull up a chair for someone else who’s equally welcomed and valued but maybe not so sure about it.

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

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