"And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name;" (Mosiah 3:9)
Who is meant by "his own?"
It seems like that refers to the Jews, who were then the remnant of Israel still living in the land of promise. They were his covenant people and, in his pre-mortal ministry as Jehovah of the Old Testament, he had shepherded them to this point.
But there was at least one other people who were just as much his own by that standard: the descendants of Lehi in the New World. And 3 Nephi 16:1-3 indicates that there were others as well.
That raises the idea that "his own" is not an exclusive designation. I have six children. If I visit one of them, I am visiting my own. But that doesn't mean the other five aren't mine as well.
And yet, five of those children are more my own than is their brother. Because one of my children is a stepson who was never legally adopted. He is mine because I raised him from the age of 5 until he left home at 17. He is mine because I prayed for him, taught him, strove to understand and serve him. And he is not mine because his father has a prior claim, and I am now both separated from and in conflict with his father. So my stepson is both mine and not my own.
He is now of an age where he can choose his affiliations. He could be my own if he wanted. But that would create competing allegiances and make him feel disloyal to his dad. The choice he makes instead is to call me by my name in place of "mom," and to keep me at arm's length.
I think that helps me understand better the Lord's relationship to the gentiles. In this case, I use the term gentiles to signify people who are not in a covenant relationship with Christ. I think every one of us, regardless of our covenant status, belongs to Jesus because he is our Creator and Redeemer. But the Fall of Adam and Eve introduced a competing claim that makes all mankind vulnerable to Satan. And insofar as we heed him, we become his lawful captives as well.
By virtue of the Atonement, Jesus Christ reclaims us, similarly to how I claim my stepson by virtue of raising him. But I don't have legal status since he was never legally adopted. This means that when he has children, they won't really be my grandkids unless and until something changes in my relationship with him. By contrast, if one of my other children were to become estranged from me and to hold me at arm's length, their children would still be my grandchildren, because they're my flesh and blood.
It seems like covenants are the spiritual equivalent of both giving birth and legal adoption. They are the mechanism by which Jesus Christ becomes our spiritual father. In making and keeping covenants, we ratify his redemption and become no longer lawful captives to our Enemy. Covenants make us his; we become, as it were, his flesh and blood. And what's more, they give him claim to our children as if they were his own flesh and blood, even if those children are out of relationship with him.
So Jesus came to the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant -- to his own spiritual flesh and blood. And they rejected him. But that was all part of the plan, because the rejection of Jesus by the ruling Jews led first to his triumphant completion of vicarious suffering on the cross, and then, after his resurrection, to the taking of the gospel to the gentiles. And the moment any gentile ratifies his redemption by entering into a covenant with Christ, they become his own just as surely as anyone who was born in the covenant.
So in 3 Nephi 15:23, when the Lord says that "the Gentiles should not at any time hear my voice -- that I should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost," he isn't playing favourites. Rather, it seems like perhaps he needs an invitation before visiting them in person. And that invitation is extended by the making of covenants as well as the exercise of faith.
What matters to me here is that, while the Lord calls some his own and visits them in person while he relates to others from a greater distance, this is not about favourites. It's about covenants and part of why covenants exist is to extend the reach of mercy to every soul who will. Jesus' coming to the Jews was not because they were more beloved than any other nation on the Earth. I think it was because the Lord's covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob allowed him special access to the Jews. And he used that special access to establish his kingdom and to leave it in the hands of trustees whose commission was to lift up his light to all the world, so that everyone could enter into those same covenants and give him special access to their posterity as well. The prioritization of one's own in ministry is designed to bless all.
Questions for me: who are my own? What are the respective roles of affinity, assignment, and family relationship in establishing that? I have close friends to whom I am neither related or assigned who feel like my own. And I have people to whom I'm assigned to minister whom I hardly know. And then there are people who used to be related to me by marriage, but are not any longer. And others who have aching needs, but with whom I don't relate particularly well, who are not my relatives, and for whom I don't have any especial stewardship.
How important is it that I prioritize my time and service to ensure I am ministering first to my own?
Question for readers: How do you figure out who is your own and where to prioritize your ministry?