Listening to Jesus About His Relatives

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 3:31-35

And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Mark 3:31-35 rsv

Did Jesus speak much about His relatives? About the significance of family ties? Yes, He did. And some of the things He said were quite surprising. Listen to this incident recorded in the third chapter of Mark and the teaching of Jesus that sums it up. I’m beginning at verse 31:

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around on those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Now try to picture this scene. Jesus is in a house crowded with people, apparently teaching His followers. They’re gathered around Him so tightly that no one else can possibly squeeze into the building. Quite unexpectedly, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and His brothers arrive, and they want to see Him. When their efforts to reach Him prove hopeless, they send a message through someone near the door. The word gets passed along until finally someone in the inner circle around the Lord says excitedly, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.”

What will Jesus do? Will He rise immediately, excuse Himself and go out to meet them? Probably some in the crowd expected that. They thought He would interrupt His teaching, leave the circle of His followers and hasten to His family members. If that’s what they were anticipating, they must have been shocked at His reaction. He responded with a question to those around Him, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” What do You mean, Jesus? You know who they are. Your mother’s Mary, your brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. They’re Your brothers and they’re right outside. Why are You asking us who they are? Those must have been some of the thoughts that ran through the minds, at least, of people around Him.

But Jesus didn’t wait long for a reply. After He had given them a moment to think about it, He answered His own question. “My brother, my sister, my mother – they are whoever does the will of God.”

NOT AUTOMATIC

Apparently it’s not an automatic thing, to be taken for granted, that we are genuinely close to our family members. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes those who grow up in the same home, as members of the same family, remain for a lifetime distant from each other. There may be fierce enmity, long-standing distrust, or simply a staying out of each other’s way, a living apart.

Children can’t be compelled to love their parents, can they, and delight in their company? Parents can demand obedience, conformity, and expressions of respect, but close ties of affection are another thing. Parents cannot enforce shared values, can they, or genuine friendship, or joy in being together? The warm and friendly response of our family members is a gift of grace, not subject to our coercion or manipulation. It’s a blessing that cannot be bought.

The gospel records make it clear that Jesus’ family members didn’t always understand Him. Early in this third chapter of Mark, we’re told that they feared at times that He was out of His mind. His brothers sometimes suspected the motives behind His ministry. They thought He wanted to make a name for Himself, to become famous. At that point, they didn’t believe in Him. Perhaps they shared the skepticism of those others in Nazareth who couldn’t imagine where He got His teachings or how He did these remarkable things. Apparently His brothers were not especially eager to listen to His words. Though they were His siblings, reared in the same home, their relationship to Jesus was not always close.

WHENCE CLOSENESS?

What makes for that closeness between people? If we don’t get it automatically by being born in the same family and living in the same house, how does it happen? In C.S. Lewis’s book The Four Loves, the author speaks of how deep friendships are formed. He notes that people who are always looking for a friend, trying to find a friend, often fail in the search.

Ties of friendship are formed, according to Lewis, in a more indirect way. We discover one day, for example, that we share a common interest with someone. We enjoy the same activities. At an even deeper level, we find that our basic values are in harmony. We care about the same concerns; our hearts beat for the same cause. And as we stand shoulder to shoulder, working for the same goal, we discover that a wonderful thing has happened. We are friends.

This may happen between siblings, and often does. It may become a reality between parents and children. Blessed are those families where that occurs! But it doesn’t necessarily happen because we’re in the same family or live in the same neighborhood or are citizens of the same country.

In 1978 I had an experience in the Soviet Union that I’ll never forget. Helen and I, with our friends the Sergeys, were in Moscow on the Fourth of July. That year it fell on a Sunday. In the morning I was privileged to preach in a Moscow church with John Sergey, our Russian language broadcaster, as my interpreter. That afternoon we had a communion service in the same congregation. I was asked to pray, holding the cup of blessing aloft. We partook, all those Russians, a few of us Americans, perhaps a few from other nations as well. It was a moving experience. At the close of the service, many of the Russian believers gathered around us, full of smiles, weeping tears of joy. Several burly men threw their arms around me and kissed me.

Now this was a time when relations between these two countries were severely strained. I hadn’t known what to expect when I arrived in Russia. The welcome, the warm affection of these Russian Christians, was almost overwhelming to me.

Later that same day, because it was the Fourth of July, there was to be a kind of celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Americans who happened to be in the city on the day were invited to attend. So we went along. It was a grand occasion. The embassy personnel were all there, some of them splendidly uniformed. There was an abundance of good food, tastefully prepared. Guests strolled around comfortably. The conversation was polite and pleasant. But as I stood in that circle of people, this thought came powerfully to my mind: I had been closer to those Russian believers in that communion service than I was to these Americans in the U.S. Embassy. And the tie was not national, not racial, not cultural or political, but spiritual. The basis of fellowship and friendship around the table of the Lord was Christ and His love.

TO BE CLOSE TO CHRIST

All right, what makes for closeness to Jesus Christ? What in our lives promotes genuine kinship with Him, brings us near, as it were, to His heart? Jesus spells it out clearly, “Whoever does the will of God is my mother, my sister, my brother.” And who are the people who do that? Jesus looks around, says Mark, at the circle of His followers and says, “Here they are, My family members.”

Remember now what it is that Jesus lives for. Listen to His words: “My meat is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. . . . I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” And even in Gethsemane, facing the agony of forsakenness, He prays, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” As the beloved Son, Jesus’ sole ambition was to do the Father’s bidding, to accomplish the Father’s work and so to honor His name. Jesus recognized as His kinfolk those who felt the same way, who had the same life objective.

It wasn’t that His disciples were totally obedient to God all the time. Most of them were struggling. They had a long way to go. But their basic heart attitude was right. They had responded to His call, submitted themselves to His lordship. They were learning His ways, listening to His Word. They were open to God and His rule. As Jesus saw it, they were sharing His vision and burden. They were doing the will of God.

So take heart, friends, even though you feel you’re fumbling and failing, still a long way from a totally obedient life, if you are sitting at the feet of Jesus to hear His Word, He sees you as close to His heart. To Him, you’re like one of His family members.

But if your aim in life is different from that of Jesus, it simply isn’t possible to be close to Him. A relationship can go just so far when it isn’t grounded in a shared commitment. I’ve noticed this about friendships: my best friends are those who not only love me but who love also my cause, who not only care about my well being but want to see the work of my life prosper. The attachment is based not only on agreeable personal traits but on a living sympathy of purpose.

Think about what’s most important in the world to you, what you prize most highly, what you pray about most fervently. If that is the kingdom of God, the doing of God’s will in this world, then you’re truly close to Christ and your very best friends are those who join with you in giving themselves to see it realized.

WHY DID HE SAY IT?

As I’ve reflected on this passage, the question has come to me – maybe it has to you: Why did Jesus say this? It was surely not to put down His family members, not to disparage the importance of family ties. It was rather on the positive side to lift up the blessedness of discipleship, the closeness which His devoted people may have to Him. The gospel, the good news in this text, is that anyone can be near to the Lord’s heart, closely related to Him. There is no respect of persons with Jesus. You don’t have to belong to the right family or come from the right part of town or be a certain color or speak a particular language. Anyone who has a heart to do the will of God, Jesus welcomes as a brother or a sister.

Maybe you don’t have a family now in the strict biological sense. Your parents are gone. You have no brothers or sisters. You’re a single parent or you’re just single. What family you have may be badly fractured. Sometimes you feel that because you’re not a part of a nuclear family, that there can be no close ties for you. In the church of Jesus Christ you may feel left out because it seems like a family oriented kind of society. But however it seems, that’s not the way it is. You are just as much a part of God’s family as anyone. If you are listening to the Lord’s Word, wanting to be His follower, you belong in the most profound sense. And if you have no family at all, you are still a beloved child of your heavenly Father. You’re a member in Christ of God’s family.

Jesus never meant to speak against love and loyalty toward family members, but He wanted us to see that an ultimate loyalty to one’s biological family eventually proves to be exclusive of other people, even idolatrous when carried to an extreme. An ultimate loyalty to Christ, on the other hand, brings us near to Him and into closeness with any and all of His people.

The love of God is the perfecting of every other love. We truly love our family members best when we love them in Him. Jesus’ mother and brothers would one day be far closer to Him than they were at this time. When they came to God through His Word, when they trusted in Him as the crucified and risen Savior and Lord, then they would be one with Him in a new way. And now as one sent by the Lord to invite people into His family, I want to invite you today so to trust in Jesus Christ, so to listen to His Word as the disciples did, so to submit your life to His lordship, that you may truly belong to God’s family. It’s in trusting in Jesus Christ that we have new life and are truly God’s children.

Prayer: Father, help everyone sharing this program to know that he or she is greatly loved by You and help them so to trust in Jesus Christ that receiving new life they may become truly Your children. In Jesus’ name. Amen.