The mother and brothers of Jesus came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’
Cyril of Alexandria (374 AD – 444) took pains to say that Jesus was not putting his mother and brothers below his disciples, but rather raising the disciples to their level. “Do not let anyone imagine that Christ scorned the honour due to his mother, or disregarded the love owed to his brothers. He said, ‘Honour your father and your mother.’ How, I ask you, could he have rejected the love due to brothers, he who even commanded us to love not only our brothers but also those who are enemies to us? – he said, ‘Love your enemies….’ The greatest honour and the most complete affection are what we owe to our mothers and brothers. If he says that they who hear his word and do it are his mother and brothers, is it not plain to everyone that he bestows on those who follow him a love that is thorough and worthy of them?”
Typically, Luke softens the edges of Mark’s account. In Mark, Jesus says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (3:33). Luke omits this phrase, perhaps because it might appear to slight the family. He also displaces it from Mark’s sequence of events, using it here as a nice ending to his section on hearing the word.
We are so used to defending the family that we are apt to forget that it needs first and foremost to be redeemed. Family relationships are capable of becoming very destructive. People can be hurt more deeply by members of their own family than by any stranger. You sometimes meet people who have a feeling of being held prisoner in destructive or stuffy family relationships all their lives.
These relationships need strong and constant injections of God's grace. Jesus was drawing attention to discipleship in this passage; but his statement implies something about family relationships too. Everyone who hears and keeps the word of God is a relative of Jesus. Why not spell it out more fully? If you are trying to live a Christian life you can think of yourself as the Lord's mother, aunt, uncle, younger sister, older sister, brother, cousin, next-door neighbour.... If this awareness entered the soul very deeply we could never again treat any relative badly. Every human relationship would be opened up and made a vehicle for the grace of Christ.
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