Can’t Choose Family

Passages: Is. 22:15-24; Heb. 1:1-14; Lk. 8:17-21
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԻԲ 15-24; Եբր. Ա 1-14; Ղկ. Ը 17-21

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

In the literary work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brother’s Karamazov, we see such a family. 3 brothers, Dimitri, Ivan and Alexei. All three from the same father, with the same upbringing and discipline and yet, very different from each other. Dimitri, very much like his father, a sensualist, living worldly and indulging in drinking and debauchery. Ivan is quiet, detached but had a brilliant mind. Alexei, is intellectual and stoic, empathetic and kind – ultimately leading him to be a monastic; 3 brothers very different from one another. We cannot choose our family! We’ve all heard this saying. Children cannot choose their parents, parents cannot choose their children; Siblings cannot choose their siblings, and so forth. Our family is our family, for better or worse, come what may. And as we see from the story of Brother’s Karamazov, regardless of upbringing every person in a family is different, regardless, if they are related. Some of us are outgoing while others shy; some of us are private, while others are like books, easy to read and open.

And we don’t need to look at literature to prove this. For example, I am a priest of the Armenian Church, my brother is an animator and stand up comedian and my sister is a doctor. Very different personalities, different ways of thinking and expressing ourselves, with different likes and dislikes. We rarely ever agree and if we’re honest we probably don’t like a lot of the same things or have the same interests. And if we’re brutally honest, we probably wish the other would change and be more like us but we can’t. And yet, we are family. I am sure many of us, if not all of us, have the same situation. We have family members we cannot stand; we have family members we wish we could change or even replace; we have family members that are very different than us. We can’t choose our family. What about God’s family my dears? As a Church, we recognize that we are a family. God is our Father, the Church is our mother and we are the children – meaning we are brothers and sisters. Yet, we are all very different; all of us are unique, all of us are strange and all of us, I am certain, wish the person next to us would change.

Just like our biological family, our spiritual family is the same – we cannot choose them. However, unlike our biological family, there is a choice can be made. As children, parents discipline us, teach us, protect us to a certain degree and instill in us principles. As children, though we cannot choose our parents, we can choose to live by those rules, teachings, and guidance. We can ignore or utilize what our parents give us. In fact, in Proverbs 1:8-9 we read, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” Likewise, God our Father blesses us and instructs us through various means – Holy Scripture, life in the Church, the clergy, nature, science, music, etc. Creation, visible and invisible, is a blessing given by God to us to understand and grow in our faith in Him. We as his children have a choice – we can choose to live by, give thanks, and grow through what God has given us or we can ignore, betray, and forget Him. The difference my dears, is that our biological families remain our families for better or worse. We can change our names, ignore one another, and distance ourselves, but we cannot change the DNA and blood that is found within us. However, we can be cut off from our spiritual family.

In the Gospel we read, “Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him for the crowd. And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (vv. 19-21) It may seem strange how harsh Jesus is towards his biological family. Why is He ignoring them, why not greet them and allow them in? Yet, that is not what is being taugh to us here. Rather, Christ is showing us through his own example, what He was just teaching a few verses earlier. “For nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light. Take heed then how you hear; for to him who has will more be given, and from him who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” (vv. 17-18) Take heed meaning, pay attention, don’t be lazy, don’t take advantage. Understand that God our heavenly Father has revealed to us everything, gives and blesses us. In the Old Testament God was inaccessible, and difficult at times to understand. He was veiled and known as what? God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. But to us Christian’s God is revealed as Father – a loving, accessible, person parent to whom we can go to always. In fact, in the Badarak, right before Hayr Mer the priest recites, “God of truth and Father of mercy, we thank you, who have exalted our nature, condemned as we were, above that of the blessed patriarchs; for you were called God to them, whereas in compassion you have been pleased to be named Father to us. And now, O Lord, we beseech you, make the grace of so new and precious a naming of yourself shine forth and flourish day by day in your holy Church And grant us to open our mouths with a cry of bold voice, to call upon you, O heavenly Father, to sing and say: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;”

However, my dears, because God is now known we have no excuse as to not learn, grow, and live as we are commanded. And so, if we don’t we will be cut off, we will be turned away – “what he thinks that he has will be taken away” as Christ says. And we may think this is dramatic and harsh, how could God turn us away? But pay attention, take heed as Christ says, who is turning away? Biologically, we cannot choose our families, we are born into the family have. Sadly, however, there are plenty of biological parents who literally and/or psychologically deny their children, turn them away or even throw them away. God, our Heavenly Father, never denies us, never turns us away or throws us out rather, it is we the children who choose to turn away. That is why Christ says, those who hear the word of God and do it are my family. Those who have received, who have learned and know the word of God, the blessings, the commandments, the hope, and love of God and those who use it – they are part of this family. It isn’t saying those who are Armenian or English, the white or black, tall, or short, educated, or dumb, healthy, rich and knowledgeable, dressed well, sing well, serve the Altar, choir or parish council. The clergy or laity, the republicans, or the democrats, the entitled, the gay or straight, etc. God doesn’t make those distinctions or distractions when He as a Father blesses us – God chooses us all of us His family.

It is we then, as children of this family, who choose to respond, choose to love, choose to live, and ultimately choose to be part of this family or not. If we don’t then naturally, we will be cut off, we will be distanced and left outside the family not because God didn’t choose us but because we didn’t choose Him. All those categories and descriptions are earthy definitions, are what makes us different and unique. Just like in our biological family, we are all different and unique. Some of those differences are welcome and some are not; some are good, and some are bad. However, in this family, which is the Church the good is blessed and the bad or sinful is understood as something that needs love and healing. Because regardless, of who we are, regardless of how ‘good’ or ‘righteous’ we believe we are – all of us are sinful, all of us need love and healing. All of us need God our Heavenly Father and we need each other – our brothers and sisters next to us. Because though we cannot choose our family, we can choose how we love each other, how we respond to one another, how we pray, forgive, and have compassion towards one another.

Is it easy? No! Is it possible? Yes. And we learn how by being part of this family, by coming together as often as we can, praying together, listening to each other, having compassion towards those around us and understanding that God is Father to all of us, the Church is mother to all of us, we are brothers and sisters to each other, us in the Church but as well as those who are outside the Church. As unique, different, and strange as we might seem to one another – God calls to us equally and embraces us with open arms, if only, we choose Him. No, we cannot choose our family, biological or spiritual but know that God has chosen you! Let us pray, that our hearts will be opened, our minds will find peace and we will choose Him in action and not just words. Let us pray for each other and reflect upon the truth that we are all in need of God’s love and healing. Let us choose Him as He as chosen us, through His grace and loving kindness, which reveals to us His love and hope for which we glorify and give thanks now and always, Amen!

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