31Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
33“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
34Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
A couple of weeks ago, I drove up to Ipswich for a family gathering to celebrate the sixtieth wedding anniversary of my grandparents. It was a really wonderful evening, and great to catch up not just with my grandparents, but also my parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I reflected on how tremendously lucky I am to have been blessed with such a wonderful family. All of them have shaped me into the person I am today, especially my parents, who have, and continue, to love, support and nurture me. My brother and sister, too, who sadly could not make the party, have also played an important role in making me who I am.
Today’s passage is very much about family. In it, there are a couple of particularly interesting points, which I shall try and pick out. First of all, we can see something of the relationship between Jesus and his earthly family. Secondly, we can gain some insight into the relationship Jesus says that all believers can enjoy with him.
At the beginning of this passage, Jesus’ mother and brothers are trying to find him. We encountered his family in our last article – they were trying to find Jesus to seize him because they thought that he was out of his mind. They had every reason to wonder what their beloved son and brother was up to; he had had a relatively normal childhood and early adulthood and now, as he hit his 30s, he was suddenly driving out demons, healing the sick, and preaching to anyone who would listen. I suspect that his family would have been genuinely concerned for Jesus’ mental state, and wanted to draw him away from the crowds to talk to him and to support him. No doubt Mary was remembering back to the unique conception and birth of her firstborn son, and wondering if this strange behaviour was in some way the fulfillment of her son’s destiny. I wonder if his brothers would have understood up to this point that Jesus was in some way special?
When told that his mother and brothers have turned up and are looking for him, Jesus seems to reject them; some people no doubt interpret this passage as demonstrating that we should isolate ourselves from our families in order to focus on serving God. This could not be further from the truth, however. Jesus maintained a very positive relationship with his family. We see in Acts 1:14 just how much his family loved him, and how they committed themselves to following him; we’re told that the apostles devoted themselves to prayer, “together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that, after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his brother James. One of the last things that Jesus did as he was dying on the cross was to think of his mother as he asks the apostle John to look after her (John 19:26-27). More than that, John tells us that Jesus loved his mother (John 19:26). It quickly becomes clear, then, that Jesus was not rejecting his earthly family. He recognized the importance of family, loved his own, and valued the support and love that they showed him.
Why, then, does Jesus seem to denigrate the relationship he has with his family? Far from denigrating his family at the expense of believers, he actually seems to be elevating the position of the believers to that of a beloved family. He sweeps his hand around the circle of people listening to him and tells them that they are his family. He states that “whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Throughout the Bible, the importance of doing God’s will is made clear. In the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6) which we recite so often, we are asking that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In John 7:17, Jesus tells us that by striving to do God’s will, we will know if Jesus is truly from God: “if anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether his teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on God’s authority.” In 1 Peter 4, we are told that we should all be striving to live for the will of God.
Here, though, in our current passage, Jesus makes it absolutely clear to us the real benefit of living to do God’s will; by doing so, we are considered to be Jesus’ brother or sister or mother. That close relationship that I have with my earthly family is the same kind of relationship I can have with Jesus – if I do his will.
So do I treat Jesus as a close member of my family? How do I interact with my family? Well, I call them up when I’m stressed or worried. I certainly do that with Jesus, bringing my problems to him in prayer. I also share my joy and happiness with my family; I suspect that I may be a little slow to do that with Jesus. I would do anything to help a family member. Would I do the same for Jesus? Do I do the same for Jesus? That’s a slightly tougher proposition, and one I shall give some thought to in the coming days.
Of course, it works both ways. As well as Jesus being loved and respected by his family, he also loved and respected them back, modeling for us what family should be like. Do I always honour my family the same way as Jesus honoured his? Do I always think of them before I think of myself? Hmmm. Again, food for thought.
It’s a real privilege to be able to regard Jesus as a brother. I am certainly going to try to think of him more in this way in the coming weeks.