Jesus, Our Next-of-Kin
by Fr. Fio Mascarenhas
In ordinary life, blood-relatives are considered to be one's closest kinsfolk. Such, for example, are parents, or siblings, or children. If one is married, then one's wife/husband is one's closest kin, since the two persons have become one: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one" (Mt.19:5).
Christians, however, have been gifted, through faith, with a new "closest kinsman". This is because, by baptism, they have been "re-born" (or "born from above") of water and the Spirit (Jn.3:3-6) and have entered into a new (real, but spiritual) world. This new relative is now their "eldest Brother", Jesus! He takes first place amongst all other relatives. There is no one more "next-of-kin" to Christians than Jesus, no one who loves them more than Jesus, no one who gives himself more to each of his disciples than Jesus. Having done so once and for all through his death and resurrection 2000 years ago, he continues to do it every moment of their lives in and through his Spirit, his word, his body and blood, his Church, and "the poor".
This will help explain Jesus' demand, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Mt.10:37). Jesus, and faith in Jesus (or discipleship of Jesus), is the "pearl of great price" and the "treasure in the field", to acquire which one must be ready to give up everything else (Mt.13:44f). Jesus is, and wants to be, uniquely, our closest kinsman!
In the biblical story of Ruth, the closest kinsman or next-of-kin was expected to exercise his right "to redeem" the woman whose husband had died before she had conceived. Since the next-of-kin refused this right, it passed over to Boaz, a close kinsman: "Then the next-of-kin said, 'Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it'" (Ruth 4:6-10). So Boaz married Ruth, and she was blessed with a son, who later became the grandfather of the great King David.
In the Old Testament, the closest kinsman was considered a "redeemer" (Hebrew, "goel"): it was his obligation and right to rescue a kinsman from poverty, to redeem him/her from slavery, or to avenge a death. In the New Testament, our "goel", closest kinsman and redeemer, is Jesus. It was the will of his Father that he both redeem us and be the closest kinsman, as well as model, of every human being:
"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren" (Rom.8:29).
"He destined us in love to be his sons/daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood…" (Eph.1:5-7).
He who has redeemed humanity from slavery to sin and death remains always on its side in the spiritual warfare that is being unceasingly waged. And, as the Good Shepherd, Jesus continues to rescue human beings from their "poverty" (from every difficulty wherein human resources prove inadequate). A very touching and beautiful scene in the Book of Revelation confirms that even in heaven, Jesus wishes to acknowledge and maintain his solidarity with humanity by not sitting on the throne with his Father but "standing among the twenty four elders" (Rev.5:6).
The way that Jesus establishes and strengthens this bond as next-of-kin is by offering us the gift of the "spirit of sonship". Through baptism, we
"have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, 'Abba, Father!' it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…" (Rom.8:15-17).
Already in the first lines of John's Gospel, we were told, "To all those who received him, who believed in his name, Jesus gave power to become the children of God" (1:12). It is the Holy Spirit who is this "power" to become the children of God, as we saw earlier in Rom.8:15, and as Gal.4:4-6 repeats. Jesus gave us this "power/Spirit" at his death and resurrection, when he became our Redeemer:
"If anyone thirst, let him/her come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water'. Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified" (Jn.7:37-39).
On the cross Jesus was glorified, and so could give us his Spirit: "he bowed his head and gave up (Greek: handed over) his Spirit" (Jn.19:30). Then, "one of the soldiers pierced his side and at once there came out blood and water" (Jn.19:34). The Fathers of the Church have interpreted this "blood and water" as symbolising the gift of the Spirit (given in Baptism/Eucharist). Our closest kinsman, our "redeemer", Jesus, sends this Spirit to transform us "into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another" (2Cor.3:18), so that he can truly be "the eldest among many brothers and sisters".
Our task then, as discerning disciples, is to cooperate with this Spirit, who also, like Jesus, never forces his way into our hearts but waits, knocking patiently, till we open to him. Let our "partnership" with him be single-minded, wholehearted, and generous! Whether in the area of prayer, or suffering, or works of love, let us steadfastly, patiently, and courageously "become like Jesus"! His word, his sacramental body and blood, his Church, and "the poor" will always be the Spirit's favourite means to fashion us into Jesus' likeness, and to give us "grace upon grace" (Jn.1:16).
"Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine… For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities… nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!" (Rom.8:35-39).
For truly, Jesus is our closest kinsman!
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'Scripturally Speaking' copyright © 2004 Fr. Fio Mascarenhas. All rights reserved.