Jesus' Mother and Brothers

Scripture can be found here...

Family stuff is never simple.


Even the most loving families, even people who you know are there for you, who you know deep in your gut love you like crazy and have your back, can sometimes make it clear—very clear—that they don’t understand you.


I entered into a tough time with my mom at the exact time all the doctors and therapists and experts in child development predicted I would: Age 12. The beginning of adolescence, and separation and what the experts call “individuation” (i.e., becoming a self-aware individual). The precipitating factor? I got my hair cut.


When I was a little girl, I had long hair—sit-on-it-and-get-headaches long. And when I was in sixth grade my mom took me to have it cut.


And after that, every single time we had a difference of opinion—on anything, from what was in the news, to the music I listened to, to what we were having for dinner—my mom said, and I quote, “Your personality is different since you cut your hair.”


Which infuriated me. I was the same person I had always been, as far as I was concerned. Was I getting a little more articulate about my thoughts, a little more outspoken? Was I more willing to defend my choice of music? (For those who are dying to know: Cat Stevens and Carly Simon. I kid you not.) Yes, I was more willing to say, “I WILL listen to “On the Road to Find Out” at full volume—in daylight hours, when my brother’s not home to tell me how annoying I am. Yes, I was more willing to stand up for my choices in clothing. But I was still me.


And just in case you thought that Jesus had everything completely perfectly mapped out, and had the perfect family in Mary and Joseph and his brother James (and other brothers), we have today’s little passage to remind us what our theology tells us: That Jesus, in addition to being the revelation of God, was also fully human. Because, his family was upset with him.


Now, you can’t see it here, in the Matthew version… but turn to the Mark version of this story... you can find it here... I’ll wait.


We're in Mark 3, and our story is from verses 31-35. Now look above, to the paragraph that begins with a fragment from verse 19:


‘Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”’


And, just so you know? It wasn’t “people” who said Jesus was out of his mind. It was his family.


This story has been cleaned up for us—the translation of the Mark passage, and the complete omission of his family’s opinion of Jesus’ mental well-being in the Matthew passage. The biblical editors are no dopes. They know this kind of thing can be hard for us to hear. The things about Jesus that look like God are easy to receive. The things that make him look like us, not so much.


And yet—how wonderful this is. How reassuring for us to see Jesus as he was, and as we are, with a messy, real family, who didn’t always understand him, who didn’t always “get” him, even though undoubtedly they loved him—they weren’t restraining him for themselves. They were trying to keep him safe.


He was having none of it.


One of the things Jesus learned… and yes, I do believe he learned, that is part of the human experience, and in the incarnation, God enters authentically into the human experience. One of the things he learned is that tribal culture needs to give way to something else.


Tribes aren’t bad. The bible tells us the stories of all our ancestors in faith, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah—and these are all stories of the tribe God originally set aside to be a called, chosen, covenant people. Eventually there were twelve tribes, and much of the history we read in the Old Testament tells us about those tribal units, their ups and downs, those who rose to prominence and those who faded away. Tribes aren’t bad—at a certain point in history, tribes were the reasonable, understandable adaptation humans made to a world that was scary and dangerous. Having a tribe gave you safety, shelter, people who were recognizably and dependably on your side. That’s why we sometimes call our special people, our “A-team,” as it were, our “tribe.”


But notice: in modern usage, tribe often means people we have chosen to be with. I could name for you several different tribes I belong to. My Wednesday morning clergy group. My college buddies. These are people I have bonded deeply with for lots of different reasons, and whose love I know is always there.


Jesus names his new tribe: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”


And then he looks around him. Gathered there, at just this moment, are: the people called his disciples, who are following him and learning from him; the man from whom he has, within the last few minutes, cast out a demon that had been plaguing him; that man’s friends, who had brought him to Jesus; the Pharisees, who had been giving Jesus a hard time about casting out demons; plus crowds of people who just wanted to see him, be near him, hear him. And maybe receive his healing touch, have their own demons eradicated, feel the new life flow through them.


And Jesus looks at the little ragged band of followers, his disciples. The core of the early church. And he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48b-50).


Jesus knows that tribal culture—only sticking with the people who share the same bloodlines as ours, or maybe the same skin color as ours—will only get us so far. To become those who do the will of our Father in heaven—to be able to grow in our faith, so that it is not a set of commandments or a book of rules, but God’s law written on our hearts—we need to step outside the tribes, as comfortable and comforting as they can be, and open ourselves to a new way of thinking about our connections.


Jesus has given us a new tribe. Jesus has given us each other.


And it’s never simple, with family. Even, sometimes, with our new tribe. We don’t always see eye to eye, even though we might love each other—like crazy, you might say. This new tribe is the tribe of Jesus-followers. The tribe of those who want to learn from him, be healed by him, have our demons eradicated, find new life coursing through us. It doesn’t mean we have to leave our families behind. It does mean we have brand new possibilities for growing, learning, and loving.


Jesus has given us a new tribe. Thanks be to God. Amen.