Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

77. “Who is my mother?” (Mark 3:31-35; Matt. 12:46-50; Luke 8:19-21)*

There is sad dramatic irony in the circumstance mat just when it was said in the hearing of the crowd (in a packed synagogue? Mt. 12:46): “Blessed is the womb that bare thee”, his mother was being persuaded that Jesus was no blessing at all to his family, but only a liability. For, coming to the conclusion that Jesus had gone out of his mind, they had taken a panic decision to get him home and keep him there, by force if necessary (Mk. 3:21 Gk.). Even his own mother had allowed herself to be persuaded into this. Besides the reason already supplied by Mark (3:21), there were now misgivings because of the rough handling Jesus had given the important people from Jerusalem and the seeming egotism with which he had rebuked their denigration of him.

Actually it was this attitude adopted by his own folk which had sparked off the malevolent accusation of the scribes that Jesus was possessed by an unclean spirit-by Baalzebub, in fact, the worst of the lot.

So his brothers came to the place where Jesus was now teaching. They were accompanied by his mother and, it may probably be inferred (from Mk. 3:35 and the well-supported AV reading in v. 32), by at least two of his sisters, even though (according to Mt. 13:56) some of them were now married and settled in Nazareth.

These brothers and sisters of Jesus were, in all probability, the children of Mary and Joseph, born to them after the birth of Jesus. It is, admittedly, a serious difficulty that these who grew up regarding Jesus as the firstborn among them should not be the first to accept him. “Neither did his brethren believe in him” (Jn. 7:5). This unpleasant fact has become the main argument advanced by those who maintain that they were the children of Joseph by an earlier marriage, but the other evidence (Study 7) making them children of Mary is decidedly more convincing.

Rather remarkably, Luke uses a singular verb to describe the coming of the family to the place where Jesus was — this, perhaps, with the intention of focusing attention on Mary, since if Jesus was likely to take any notice of this unexpected move, it would be for her sake rather than the others.

Perhaps it was providential that she was unable to get at Jesus because of the crowd filling the place where he was, for face to face with a tearful pleading mother would he have had the strength to do other than accede to her request? Instead his brothers, recognized by many in the throng, had to be content with calling out to him (Mk. 3.31). But he took no notice.

The tenseness and drama of the situation is conveyed specially by Matthew with his characteristic “Behold”, and by the intensely effective device of repeating the words: “his mother and his brethren” five times in the space of five verses.
The message” “Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee”, was passed to Jesus (with perhaps a hint of reproach) from the outer edge of the group which sat and stood before him.

How would he react to it? The attitude of the family was, doubtless, well- known in the place. It was easy to understand the strong line taken just lately by Jesus towards his adversaries, but this was a very different situation. What would he do?

Here - and not for the first time, one may be sure - Jesus was faced with a personal conflict of loyalties. It was the kind of problem inevitable in the experience of all conscientious men of God, when the keeping of one commandment involves the infringement or neglect of another. To Jesus, “honour thy Father and thy mother” now presented an acute dilemma. In honouring the one, he must, however reluctantly, dishonour the other. And this-under much emotional stress, for certain - he now proceeded to do.

Addressing himself to the one who had given the message and speaking out loud so that all could hear, including those out of sight who had sent it, he first asked: “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?” Their own unspoken answer to this question would prepare the way for his next word. Did their minds go to the words with which Moses celebrated the loyalty of his own tribe to Jehovah at the time when all the rest of the people delighted in their lascivious apostasy to the golden calf?” “Let thy Urim and thy Thummim be with thy holy one...who said unto his father and his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children: for they have observed thy word and kept thy covenant. They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law” (Dt. 33:8-10).

Whilst they pondered, Jesus “looked round about on them which sat about him” (Mk. 3:34), that is, on those who were closest to him and most intent on his teaching, and stretching out his hand towards them, he said: “Behold, my mother and my brethren”.

Could there have been a worse rebuff of the mother who bore him? Now was fulfilled the prophecy made to her by the aged Simeon in the temple: “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also”. These words are usually read with reference to the bitter sorrow of Mary when she saw her son crucified. But they had a much more poignant application on this day of rebuke, for now she heard her wonderful son make deliberate choice between herself in her doubts and these others, not his kith and kin, who more than anything in life wished to hear and assimilate his teaching.

Jesus went on: “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” - as who should say: ‘I am willing to do their bidding’ (Jn. 14:13,14). But, just a moment earlier, he had claimed as his true family those who were his eager listeners, sitting at the feet of Rabbi Jesus. There follows, then, the inevitable but perhaps surprising equation that one who hears and appreciates the word of Jesus is, by that very fact, doing the will of God. It was another enunciation of the basic doctrine of justification by faith in Christ. Once again it was being made plain that a man stands or falls by his attitude to Jesus Christ.

“What shall we do that we might work the works of God?” a very different crowd was to ask Jesus on a later occasion (Jn. 6:28); and then his answer was essentially the same: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (cp. Lk. 11:28).

It is noteworthy that along with his new “brother and sister and mother”, Jesus did not also include a new father. For any disciple appropriating this principle in his own life there is, of course, a new Father also, but not for Jesus, Son of God (cp. Jn. 20:17). So even in this detail he indirectly taught the truth of his birth of the Virgin.

New Perspectives

More obviously he drew a careful distinction between those who are members of his spiritual family and those who are not. Religious sentimentalists who aver that the Lord loves the whole human race, every member of it, find here a sharp correction of their sloppy thinking.

This brief incident, which sent Mary to her home sick and sad and with self- reproachful tears to shed, can be of first-rate importance and lasting re- assurance to the disciple pulled in different directions by bonds of family affection and loyalties commanded by Christ. In unequivocal terms the lord insists: “first that which is natural, afterward that which is spiritual” (1 Cor. 15:46). From the very nature of things, natural ties come first (in point of time) in a man’s life. Later, allegiance to Christ intervenes and must supervene. The practical applications of this principle, followed by Jesus himself - though not without much inner conflict — are very diverse and far-reaching. Where the tragedy of divided families is experienced, the brother, sister, and mother in Christ have greater claims to one’s affections, time, efforts, fellowship and money than those whose kinship is never higher than that of the natural family. It is a truth far from easy to learn, but it should be learned.

Notes Matthew 12:46-50

Behold my mother and my brethren. For this emphasis on new relationships in Christ consider: Mk. 10:30; Lk. 11:27,28; Gal. 4:19; 1 Cor. 4:15; Philem. 10; Rom. 16:13.
Do the will of my Father which is in heaven. Two allusions to the Lord’s Prayer?

Mark 3:31-35

32, 34.
The multitude sat about him. Hence the smear with which Jesus was addressed as “Teacher” (Mt. 12:38) by his critics.
He looked round about. The same word as in v.5. There, an expression of his anger. Here also?

Luke 8:19-21

Without question this is one of Luke’s chronological dislocations, as the context very clearly shows. Of course there was a reason for this. Was it so as to set v. 17,18b alongside v. 23?

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