You are all brothers and sisters. (Matthew 23:8)
The drawing close of the Reign of God is rich in routes that usher us to fuller life. One such route envisions at its end point the place where all can dwell as children of equal worth in God’s household.
Hearing from Jesus that “we are all brothers and sisters” is one of those paradoxical pieces of revelation which can console us with hope and at the same time trouble us with a sense of overwhelming responsibility. The conversion preached by Jesus is first of all attractive and refreshing to the hearers. It cannot be otherwise because at its core is a happy news. But we also know quite well that it can be painful. Conversion involves disconcerting shifts, which redirect our minds and hearts, our relationships, and even our patterns of pious behavior. On the one hand, we accept the good news and rejoice, and on the other hand, we ache dying to old versions of self.
Who is included in the “all” of the statement in today’s reading from Matthew? The other may often appear before my imagination and in my experience in the threatening guise of the stranger, the contender, the opponent, or the enemy. What are we to make of so much talk about “human family,” “brothers and sisters,” and the like? Are we all siblings in an analogical or in a metaphorical sense? Or are we all siblings in a literal sense too (even if differently literal from the fact of sharing biological parents)? Is our theological siblinghood merely rhetorical, expressing at a maximum ethical wishful thinking and at a minimum mere communal niceness and decorum? Is it no more than some sort of divine demagoguery?
Of course, the theme in Matthew’s statement is the equality of all the disciples of Jesus within the gospel community –and this ecclesiological point is by itself substantial enough. However, I would like to suggest that the sentence has an excess of meaning with ethical purport far beyond its immediate literary context. In terms of conversion, accepting that every man is my brother and every woman is my sister reveals also the insufficiency of my care and concern, especially toward those whose suffering is most extreme.
Thus, “you are all brothers and sisters” offers a radical theological interpretation of the human situation. In Christ, we disciples are empowered to envision the human family as a community shaped by equality and profound bonds of solidarity. With prophetic clarity, Jesus’ statement reveals the great chasm that exists between the actual reality of our human coexistence and the Gospel’s version of new humanity.
Christian conversion must also take the form of an exodus through the desert toward the other. How far is it from here to the place where the genuine experience of all as fellow children of God may be possible? Examining the obstacles that rise along the way which impede me to meet every person as my brother or sister is another worthwhile form of Lenten meditation.