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When it comes to God's family, biology has nothing to do with it.
Then Jesus' brothers and His mother came. Standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. A multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Jesus, "Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You."
But Jesus answered them, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?" And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers! Whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother."
Mark 3:31-35 NKJV, condensed
All in the Family
Jesus surely didn't use words the way we use them, and we must always be careful when interpreting what he said. Normally there would be no mistaking what a mother is, or a brother. Yet here in this situation, Jesus re-defined these terms and gave them a totally new meaning. Everyone was in for a big surprise. But don't blink, or you could miss it. That's how quickly it happened.
The context for these verses is that Jesus' brothers and mother set out to find him because they had heard from people that Jesus was losing his mind. In plain words, they came to take him home. Or at least give him some R&R. By this time in Jesus' life, his earthly father, Joseph, was no longer mentioned and presumed to have died. Mother Mary was still alive and active. Four brothers are named in Mark 6:3, plus an unspecified number of sisters.
They arrived thinking to take charge of him. Did they feel some apprehension? Had they prepared a plan B in case Jesus didn't wish to come with them? Those in attendance that day passed the message up the line until Jesus received it. They may have been momentarily awed or envious. Being a brother or better yet, Jesus' mother, was a position to be coveted by those who loved him. Heads turned in expectation to see their Teacher greet these very special people.
That's when Jesus took charge by asking, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" Then to those sitting around him, he said, "You are my family. Whoever does God's will is my brother, sister and mother." It was a message directed to the crowd and to his next of kin. End of episode? According to the Gospel writers, it was.
Hard, rejecting words for Jesus' mother and siblings. Inclusive, loving words for the crowd. The issue: Who is doing the will of God? Obviously, Jesus determined it was not his family. It had seemed like a simple wish to speak personally to Jesus. Yet beneath the surface of their request were questions, fears, doubts and the desire to manipulate. Even they had difficulty believing in the work Jesus was doing. So he did not oblige them. Instead he contrasted their motives with the strangers in the crowd who simply wanted to be in his presence and learn from him.
Is Jesus harsh? Uncaring? More responsive to the multitude than to his immediate family? Probably so. Mary, the one who pondered everything in her heart, would go home with a heavy weight on her mind. And because he loved her, Jesus grieved, too.
Mary will emerge once more. But for now, she must learn not to interfere, hinder or try to possess. Jesus' love would not make her weak, but powerfully strong. Strong enough to relinquish her claim on his life and walk the dreaded road to Calvary. She, not the strangers in the crowd, will stand by Jesus at his death. In one final act, they will accomplish the will of their heavenly Father, together.
Brother James, after Jesus' death and resurrection, became a leader in the Church at Jerusalem. The brother named Judas is believed by many to be the author of the Epistle of Jude. Although there's no indication these brothers followed Jesus during his lifetime, after his death and resurrection the light came on and they jumped aboard. As we know, hindsight is much better than foresight.
The family's pain that day back in Galilee, is our gain. They absorbed the blow and moved aside so that we, too, could be included in the family. By virtue of one person being chosen to be the mother of Jesus, all other women of the day were excluded. That's the way it is in our human families. But Jesus welcomes all of us to be his mother, father, sister and brother. He opened the door of his heart to everyone. The sole requirement is that we learn what the will of God is for our lives and then do it wholeheartedly.
Can you imagine being elevated in a single swoop from ditch digger to being a vice president in the company! That's one amazing leap, and it's the story of grace. Jesus our Savior lifts us up from wherever we are and, as we submit to his loving guidance, he grants us a place right by his side! His invitation is always open--Whosoever will, may come and be part of his family.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Describe in brief terms the members of your childhood family.
What do you think the conversation among the brothers of Jesus sounded like on their way home?
As I was working with this passage, I thought of Jesus' command that we love our enemies. And I wanted to tell Jesus--Aren't you supposed to love your family, too! What is your reaction to the way Jesus treated his kinfolk in this episode?
Does the love of, and for, your family make you weak or strong? Maybe some of both? Does your family help or hinder your doing of God's will?
Although it sounds unreal, even Jesus' closest relatives had problems with doubt--Was Jesus doing the work of God or was he out of his mind! What lessons or comfort do you take from their story?
The Pharisees closed the door on outsiders. Jesus' family tried to close the door on his ministry. Locked doors constantly frustrate us. In contrast, the gate to the kingdom of heaven, although narrow, remains open. Describe God's open door policy. What does it mean for you and everyone else in the world?
Jesus invited us into his family, but would you really want to be part of that clan? Why or why not? What is involved in being a mother, father, sister or brother of Jesus? Is there a down-side as well as an up-side?
By faith the followers of Jesus began to put into practice the things which Jesus taught them. In so doing, their lives were changed and they became children of God. Pick out the key words in these two sentences. Are we born children of God, or do we become God's children?
The one requirement for entrance into Jesus' family is that we do the will of God. How can we know what the will of God is? And why the emphasis on the word, do?