46 While Jesus was speaking to the crowds, his mother and brothers stood outside trying to speak with him. 47 Someone said to him, “Look, your mother and brothers are outside wanting to speak with you.”
48 Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 49 He stretched out his hand toward his disciples and said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. 50 Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother.”
When Jesus responds to the notification that his family is present at the gathering as recorded near the end of Matthew 12, he asks, “Who are they?” He does not ask the questions “Who is my mother?” and “Who is my brother?” because he had a temporary lapse in memory, or a moment of forgetfulness, or had a bout with amnesia. He asks because he saw it as an opportunity to reimagine relationships in the kingdom of God. Jesus is in some way teaching us that to be in a relationship with his Father, we do not have to do so through our blood. It is a kin-dom lesson. He asked these questions precisely because he knows who they are, and he is in some ways reintroducing and expanding the concept of family to those who are gathered.
If any of us were in a situation where we received the same kind of notice, I doubt that we would respond in the same way that Jesus did. I do not assume that our responses would be similar because we might have a variety of ways that we relate to our kin. Some of us will welcome. Some of us will ignore them. Some of us will not know how to feel one way or the other. Some of us may be totally confused.
I know you may be wondering why I would suggest that there would be those who would be confused if they received notice that their family was present. However, it should not surprise you that there are people within the black, African American, and African diasporic communities who might be confused if you gave notice that their kin were present. They might very well ask “Who is my kin?” “Who is my family?” “Who are they?”
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit Ghana with a group of leaders representing the National Convocation and Disciples Overseas Ministries. While we were in Ghana, we visited a Slave Castle. We had a guided tour through the dungeons where slaves were held. We saw remnants of chains, visible reminders of the dehumanization of people who were brought together for the purpose of solidifying the power and economic prosperity of another people.
Families were torn apart during the transatlantic slave trade and for hundreds of years, generation after generation, black people around the world have been asked – Who are my people? Where are my people? Even though with modern technology we might trace family trees through two maybe three or four generations, the truth is there are a countless number of our kin who never made it across the Atlantic Ocean or who made it but were never identified or reconnected with their kin because they were not seen as humans. Keeping families together was never their traders, masters, or pastors’ priority.
It never ceases to break my heart and stir up feelings of deep grief when I think about how any human being could hate an entire people so much so that they would legally and in some twisted theology condone slavery. When I read this passage of scripture and I read how the disciples are giving notice to Jesus that his family is present, one might think that he would be happy. But he reimagines family and in so doing he includes all of my family whose names I will never know.
We celebrate Black History Month not only because of the popular names, but we celebrate Black History Month for the names, the faces, and the bodies we will never know. I am so glad that in Jesus's re-imagination of family, he includes those of us with a darker hue. I am so glad that Jesus informs the crowd of who his kin are now in this moment and the only requirement is to follow him, those who do the will of the Father. I am so glad that the infinite capacity of God’s love extends to my ancestors, present generations, and beyond, and in the great mystery of this love, it is available to redeem and transform those whose twisted theology and greed would allow them to be dismissive of the humanity of others.
May we never ignore, and may we continue to celebrate the history known and unknown of black people because we must continue to ask, literally and spiritually, who are my people?
We celebrate Black History Month as another way, an invitation to remember our history and reimagine a better way forward as the kin-dom of God.
Rev. Dr. Delesslyn Audra Kennebrew, J.D., M.Div., is a Visionary Strategist, Faithful Innovator, Inspirational Essayist, and Energizing Preacher. For nearly 20 years, she has worked to give life to the vision and mission of local churches and is currently intrigued by conversations that consider the intersection of faith, innovation, design thinking, and social transformation. Dr. Kennebrew has a passion for helping churches and faith leaders to discern, discover, decide, and design what's next. She currently serves as the Administrative Secretary of the National Convocation and the Associate General Minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In this new role, she is determined to ensure that the issues, priorities, and concerns of all who make up the black constituency are addressed, and that the unity of the church is realized.