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.”
--Matthew 12:48-40 NRSV
I love the American version of the TV show The Office. I watched it occasionally when it originally aired on NBC 2005-2013. I was a new parent then and couldn’t make appointments for TV shows (Tivo and DVR’s hadn’t hit the market yet). It was when the show started streaming on Netflix that I really watched it and fell in love with it. Now I listen to two different podcasts hosted by the show’s cast members that talk about the making of the show. Apparently, I’m not alone, because according to The New Yorker in 2018 alone The Office streamed for over 46 billion minutes on Netflix! Younger generations love it too. My teenagers begged me to watch it with them, which is amazing not only because they wanted me to do anything with them but also because they had even heard of a show that aired before smartphones were invented. Why is this show so loved?
If by some chance you’ve missed The Office, here’s a rundown. The show began as a short-lived series in the UK (14 episodes) about a paper company’s employees in a boring suburb of London being filmed by a documentary film crew. The boss played by Ricky Gervais was a needy non-PC pest to his employees who eked out a living by barely tolerating their boss. The UK version was making fun of a kind of reality TV show populer there, but before reality TV took over the airwaves in the US.
The US version also takes place in a paper company office but this time in working class Scranton, PA. The then pre-movie star Steve Carrell played the needy non-PC pest of a boss and the cast were largely unknown when it started. It kept its documentary feel and what made it remarkable at the time was how humdrum and everyday the action was, at least for the early seasons. It resembled life at a real office only with wackier characters--depending on the level of wackiness at one’s non-TV show job.
My own philosophy of TV sit-coms is they are all about families--families by blood/adoption or by situation. Most of them are about families--think the Cleavers, the Huxtables (pre-Cosby’s rape convictions), the Keatons, the Conners, etc. The situational families were people thrown together by life, usually jobs, who come to love each other as family--think The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, Murphy Brown and Friends. The Office is in the latter category.
I can’t speak for other generations, but I know as a member of Generation X--the first generation where divorce became the norm--my generation grew up looking for family we didn’t have at home. Friends of mine who are LGBTQ people tell me how after being rejected by their families they had to choose and create families made out of friends who would accept them. Now, I would guess there are plenty of people out there who recognize their need for family for all sorts of reasons. In The Office, you see how people thrown together by their jobs grow to care about and support each other despite how irritated they are by one another.
My whole life I’ve grown up in churches who described themselves as “families.” Over the decades I’ve experienced that often churches are at best dysfunctional families and at worst abusive ones. Nonetheless, I think part of the reason I felt called to be a minister is because in spite of the pain I have experienced from some congregations, I grew up feeling that church was a place where people cared about me, knew me and helped call out what was best inside of me. I had lots of adoptive grandparents and adoptive aunts and uncles who cared for me and taught me about God’s love. Yes, I’ve let go a lot of the bad theology I learned growing up, but I have held onto the truth they taught me in word and action--the truth that God loves me.
Maybe this is what Jesus was talking about when he offers harsh words about his own family who think he’s gone crazy. If you’ve ever felt misunderstood or rejected by your family, Jesus knows how you feel. Jesus understood that sometimes we have to choose and create our families when our families by blood/adoption can’t live out what a family should be. So he said, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus intended for the church to be a family for people who had none. That’s why the metaphor of family fills the New Testament. Churches are made up of people, and oftentimes people screw up what it means to do the will of our heavenly parent. It’s good to know that the family-making Spirit of God isn’t limited only to churches. Whether they are religious or not, wherever there are groups of people who do the will of God by creating communities of love, the Spirit is at work. As the theme song to one situational family sit-com sang, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.” Everyone deserves that kind of family whether it is by blood/adoption, church or even at the office.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851