Mat 12:46-50 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."
Jesus was part of a family. In addition to his parents Mary and Joseph, he had brothers (we know of James, Joseph, Simon and Judas) and some unnamed sisters. This was a culture that demanded loyalty to family, and expected respect for parents. For this reason it is unthinkable for the son of a Jewish family to deny his own flesh and blood ("Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?"). This shocking statement must therefore be more closely examined.
Matthew writes for a predominantly Jewish audience – one that would have recognised the significance of this interchange between Jesus and his family. Jesus was not denying that he had family. Neither was he denying the importance of family. Throughout his life he had received support from his family, and they would continue to support him and his disciples in the future. The point that Matthew’s Gospel makes is that even the sacred bonds of family are subservient to the will of God. Matthew wants Jewish Jesus-followers to recognise the difficulty of being loyal to both family and to their new Jesus-culture. For this reason he includes a story that shows how even Jesus struggled with this. Matthew wants his readers to recognise that there will be moments when very difficult choices have to be made. A few chapters later Matthew picks up this theme in Jesus’ recognition of those who who “left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name's sake” .
So what do we make of all of this?I really do not know. The post-modern, capitalist-economic culture that engulfs so much of our consciousness allows us to sacrifice family in pursuit of our goals. This seeps into our religious practice too, and family is often a secondary concern for many Christian leaders who are intent on expanding their sphere of influence. Offering purpose-driven Christians various Bible-verses that suggest that we can neglect our families in the service of Jesus is not the way forward. Perhaps this passage is a useful stopping point for us to reflect on the interface between family and faith. It is my opinion that – irrespective of the above scripture passage - following Jesus in our present circumstances and cultures ought to strengthen the bonds of family.
Fourth Sunday after Trinity35 The Cost of Servanthood
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 219.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.