1.16 Synoptics -- My Mother and My Brothers
Mat 12:46-50, Mk 3:31-5, Lk 8:19-21. We now look at several passages which say nothing about the Gentiles, but are among the strongest teachings on race in the entire Scriptures. In the midst of Jesus' speaking to the crowd, his family interrupted him by sending a messenger that they wished to speak with him.
Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you" (Mat 12:46).
This was obviously family business, and Mark gives us a clue what the nature of it might have been:
When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind" (Mk 3:21).
No doubt the neighborhood gossips had made daily treks to Mary's home to tell her the latest sensational teachings and miracles. The family had gathered together and decided that something certainly had to be done. Things had gotten out of hand. For Jesus' own good, and the reputation of the family, intervention was required. If they all went together, James probably suggested, Jesus just had to listen to them!
This was building towards a great dramatic moment, a public showdown. Hostile questioners, especially the Scribes and Pharisees, were always trying to trip him up ("Tell us, rabbi, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?"). But now it came at the hands of his own family! It was all carefully scripted: Mary would speak sense to him, James would persuade and take charge, the sisters would plead. But before any of that could take place, Jesus disowned them! He refused to see them, and they left frustrated and probably ashamed. Jesus’ reply is a masterpiece of unplanned, Spirit-inspired "adlibbing" to what was an attack on his calling and ministry.
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" (Mat 12:47-50).
The RSV reads "Stretching out his hand toward his disciples..." Mark words it, "And looking around on those who sat about him…" (Mk 3:34 RSV).
There was passion in Jesus' response, it was not detached or idealistic. He forged a bond of relationship and loyalty with those who had gathered to hear his words. The contrast was stark: his natural family did not support him, and therefore were not doing the will of God. Whereas his followers, those who had set their hearts on God, were his true family.
This teaching is repeated in a different context, recorded only by Luke:
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it" (Lk 11:27-28).
This occurred just after Jesus taught about Satan and evil spirits. Once again,he repudiated natural ties in favor of a higher loyalty -- the community of those who obey God's word.
Here is the crux of the New Testament teaching on race, and it is the most radical statement ever uttered on the subject. In a real sense, Jesus was establishing a new race, a new family, based on himself. It is a union of those who do the will of the Father in heaven. Period. No other human ties have equal weight -- race, heredity, blood, nationality, sex. The sole criterion of racial unity is doing the will of the Father. Nor is this to be understood in a generic sense, ie. "all men who seek God are my brothers." Not true. Jesus plainly indicated that his family consists of those individuals who have gathered around himself in their obedience to God. He is the touchstone of membership in God's family.
This teaching topples not only the "wall of separation" between Jew and Gentile, but every other human classification system ever devised throughout world history: white superiority, black separatism, male or female domination, castes, nationalism, citizen vs foreigner, minister vs laity, apartheid, royalty, slavery. Every social and economic stratification is overturned, dissolved, obliterated, in the fellowship of the family of God, in which all are connected to one another as brother, sister, mother or father. And at the center of this hub is Jesus Christ.
It must be stressed that this radical vision was not intended to be utopianism, an ideal romantic vision for poets. On the contrary, it is the purpose of the Holy Spirit to bring this about in history, it is how He acts in the world. It is not God who sets up religious hierarchies and denominational divisions based on human standards, distinctions and doctrines. Rather, this is God's program in a nutshell: to build up the family of God across all the boundaries that men, churches and governments continue to erect.
We will revisit this topic when we cover the death of Jesus and the establishment of the New Covenant:
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you" (Lk 22:20).
Jesus' blood takes the place of the Law of Moses as the Constitution of the new people of God.