What makes family family? Accidents of birth? The father who runs away as soon as he discovers that his child is severely handicapped; is he still a father? And what about the mother who decided that she loved a lifestyle and another man more than her babies? Still a mother? The brother who bitterly denounces his siblings and refuses all contact? A brother? Have you ever heard someone say, “She was more of a mother to me than my mother” or “They are more like sisters than my sisters”? We know what that means don’t we. Somebody stepped up and stepped in and acted like family. It had nothing to do with genetics. It was a choice to encourage, to love, to be family. It is all about shared experiences.
Luke places the account of Jesus’ family coming for a visit, or a friendly lock up the crazy son moment, in a different time than does Mark. Luke is emphasizing something different with this story than Mark, who seems to make the story about Jesus’ family trying to interject themselves into his life (the “his people” who thought he was crazy of verse 21 is most likely Jesus’ family). In Mark, there may also be a thought of Mary imperiously sending in word to Jesus, “Your Mother is here now. Break up what you are doing and come see me.” In Luke, we merely see Mary and the brothers, which may include the sisters as well (the masculine plural, both in Hebrew and Greek, can refer to males and females), arriving and attempting to get close to him. But the crowd is too crowdy and they are not able to get close to him.
In Luke, it is the crowd who report to Jesus the presence of his family. In Mark, the family sends word in. It is a subtle difference, but one that may have significance to each of the gospel writers. The news surfs the crowd until it reaches Jesus: “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see you.” When Jesus begins his ministry, there is no longer a mention of Joseph. The most likely reason for this is that sometime after the incident at the temple when Jesus was twelve and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Joseph died. Mary is, of course, a key figure in the birth narrative. She is not a major character in the ministry of Jesus. She attends the same wedding feast as Jesus in Cana. She is here and she is present at the death and burial of Jesus. She is with the disciples in the upper room after Jesus’ ascension. The brothers mentioned here are most likely Jesus’ half-brothers, children of Mary and Joseph.
What is important here, is that the family’s appearance creates a teaching moment. The crowd relayed the news of Jesus’ mother and brothers standing outside trying to come near and being unable. Jesus responded to this situation with “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” And now we know why Luke places this story after the parable of the sower and the parable of the lamp when Mark places it before. This is still about hearing. Specifically, this is about those who hear with an honorable heart; the good soil; the lamp that is lit and put in its proper place. The good soil – the lamp – not only hears the word, but does the word. How else will others be able to see the mysteries of the house? How else will they learn the language and customs of the kingdom? Hearing has never been enough.
And those who hear and put into practice the word of God are Jesus’ family. Family is about the common bond. In a healthy family, the family members are going to honor the connection of family; they are going to understand that the family is more important than their individual wants. In a spiritual family, it is the same. It is about working together in the Kingdom; it is about hearing and doing; it is about putting others before yourself. What makes a family family? It is more than genetic connection; than similar physical characteristics. It is shared experience. So, if you hear and do the word of God, you have shared experience with Jesus. Sure, he did it more perfectly than you, but it is shared experience all the same. And have you ever noticed that close families have so much more than shared eye color. They share a similar language; a way of reacting; a way of being. The shared experience has given them a common language. Your shared experience with Jesus – the hearing and doing – gives you a common language with him as well. So, you may have physical family members who act like less than family, who discard every resemblance of family responsibility like a coat that has caught fire. And that is sad. But don’t despair. You have a fellow hearer and doer brother. You have shared experience with the Messiah. Let that one sink.