Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock that belongs to you, which lives alone in a forest in the midst of a garden land; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old. As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt, show us marvellous things.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and unswerving loyalty to Abraham, as you have sworn to our ancestors from the days of old.
O Lord, you once favoured your land;
you have brought back the captives of Jacob.
You have forgiven the guilt of your people;
you have covered all their sins.
You have withdrawn all your wrath;
you have revoked your burning anger. (R./)
Restore us, O God our saviour,
and abandon your displeasure against us.
Will you be ever angry with us,
prolonging your anger to all generations? (R./)
Will you not restore again our life;
and shall not your people rejoice in you?
Show us, O Lord, your kindness,
and grant us your salvation. (R./)
While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."
The final prayer in Micah tells of Israel's liberation and journey towards the Promised Land, and stresses Israel's separateness from all other nations. Matthew, on the contrary, sees Jesus forming a new family of outsiders, based on "whoever does the will of my Father." This qualification enables Christianity to form a chosen people from among all nations and races, with no exclusivity.
The Old Testament often seems restrictive and biased, yet we remember that unless we first rally together in a strong family bond, we will have little to share with others. Only a loving family can open its doors freely to neighbours and outsiders. Wisely, the Church reveres both Testaments, the Old and the New, as forming one Bible of God's inspired word.
In today's reading God is trusted to "show faithfulness to Jacob, and grace to Abraham." This prayer, tacked on to Micah's prophecy, was composed after Israel returned from the Babylonian exile, with the people still reeling from this traumatic event. They beg for a renewal of the days of Moses, and for the wonderful signs God showed to their ancestors. But in this period of regrouping they felt it necessary to exclude all outsiders. Verses 16 and 17, omitted from today's reading, are harsh towards the foreigners; for Israel first had to recover its identity in order to later open its doors and have something worthwhile to share.
Jesus opened the doors, heroically and at great cost even to his mother Mary. When his mother and brothers were seeking to speak with him, Jesus seems to pass them by. Extending his hands to the circle of his disciples, he said, "These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is brother and sister and mother to me."
We all value our families. As we get older we might not see them as often as we once did, but they still matter a great deal to us. They say blood is thicker than water. When a family member is in difficulty, we will generally gather around him or her to give support. The gospels don't tell us a great deal really about Jesus' family. Yet, when they do mention his family, they give the impression that there was often tension between Jesus and his blood family. In this morning's gospel, Jesus' family, including his mother, were standing outside where Jesus was speaking, anxious to have a word with him. They were trying to get his attention, perhaps even trying to get him home, away from the crowds that were always pursuing him. However, on this occasion Jesus stood his ground; he didn't go with his family. Rather, he redefined who his family really were. He identifies his disciples as his family, and declares that all those who do the will of his heavenly Father are now his family. As disciples we are all brothers and sisters of the Lord, and of each other, and sons and daughters of God. This is the new family that Jesus came to form, and what distinguishes this family is the desire to do the will of God as Jesus has revealed that to us by his words and by his life. That is why, together, as members of the Lord's family, we pray, 'Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.'