Luke 8: 19 – 21 Jesus’ mother and brothers
Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’
He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’
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This seems very harsh. Could it be that Jesus is saying that he must concentrate on the business in hand, of preaching to the crowd and teaching his disciples? Could it even be that the disciples mistook a casual comment and turned it into a piece of teaching about the relative importance of faith and family?
I fear not. Jesus has “form” on this issue. Let’s look at Luke 14: 25 – 26
“Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”
And in Matthew 10: 37 – 38. ‘Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’
First, let’s remember that Luke’s use of the word ‘hate’ doesn’t mean the same today as it meant to a Jew in the time of Jesus. At that time it was used to express preference. To love the first and hate the second meant only to prefer the first to the second. Both Matthew and Luke are saying the same thing. To be a disciple of Jesus, in any conflict of interests with our human family – whether that’s money, time, effort, emotional engagement, whatever – Jesus has to come first.
That gives me a huge problem, because my best experience of love has been from my wife. She has stood with me at great personal cost through some very difficult times. She has loved me selflessly when I was unlovable; when I pushed others away from me. And she’s not a Christian. I need to honour her love.
But let’s look now in St Matthew’s gospel at the parallel to today’s passage from Luke.
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’
He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ 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: 46 – 50)
I don’t find this so hard to accept; in fact, I don’t find it hard at all (at least in theory!). Those who do the will of the Father have a claim on me that is similar to that of a family member. I might even widen it further, and say that any man has a claim on me that is similar to that of a family member, if I am taking seriously Jesus’ command to love my neighbour as myself.
Let’s look at Matthew 10: 40 – 42.
‘Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.’
This passage is almost immediately after the statement, ‘Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.’ It feels much more generous but it is the same Jesus who is speaking, and it is in the same context. Jesus seems to be saying that those who welcome people in his name are sure of a reward. This makes sense, because in welcoming the person in Jesus’ name they are showing in a practical way that they are motivated by faith in Jesus.
‘Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me,’ is true; but who among us is worthy of Jesus? None of us are. The love of Jesus is a pure, unmerited gift.
‘Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me,’ is, I think, both a calling and an encouragement. It is a calling to be the very best that we can be; to aspire to be ready to lay down our life for Jesus. It is an encouragement, because every single one of us will meet situations in life that challenge our faith; we can be comforted that Jesus has experienced the worst that anyone can suffer and triumphed despite it.
Jesus wants the best for me, and also for my wife. I trust him to lead us as a couple, despite my wife’s unbelief. And if ever there’s a clash as to who’s first, I shall try and put you first, Lord; I shall try.
Help me to put Jesus first in all areas of my life. I place myself in your hands, confident that you love me.
In Jesus’ name, Amen