Q&R with Brad Jersak: Why did Jesus reject his family?
- 46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
- 48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50).
In this passage, Jesus refused to talk to his mother or his family, but only to his disciples. And he says that his followers are his real mother and brothers. Why wouldn’t he talk to Mary and his brothers, especially if we are commanded to honor our parents?
I think Jesus’ default mode was that he adored his mom. Mary brought him into this world and raised him; she was at the Cross when he died; she saw him when he rose from the dead, and she was there on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out (Acts 2). And Jesus definitely believed in honoring our parents as he cites the command twice in this same Gospel (15:4, 19:19).
BUT Jesus also made it clear that serving God’s kingdom had priority over the priorities, expectations or demands of one’s family (see, for example, Mark 10:29-31 and Matthew 8:18-22). In so many cases, God the Holy Spirit counsels and guides us in what to do and how to live, and also empowers us to follow the Jesus Way, but who are the first to object to it (or who are we first to blame for hindering us)? Often it’s members of our own family. And that’s where we run into a question of loyalty.
In this passage, Jesus is not simply rejecting his family, but he is saying (as he did to Mary when he was 12 years old), “I need to go about my Father’s business.” Matthew doesn’t give us as much detail about the story as the Gospel of Mark. Tell the same story, Mark adds,
- When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21).
In other words, Jesus’ family wasn’t just waiting to chat with him. He knew that at this point, (1) they thought he had lost his mind and (2) they were doing an intervention. They planned to actually ‘take custody’ of him (literally, they intended to ‘seize him’).
So Jesus needed to lay a boundary around family loyalty. Honoring his earthly family would not prevent or dissuade him from honoring his heavenly Father. In essence, he was saying, “I am following my Father’s will, not yours. I don’t follow you. But you can follow me.” And, happily, eventually, they did. We know that Mary was faithful to the bitter end, and it seems that James (who later led the church in Jerusalem) and Jude (who wrote a one-chapter epistle in our New Testament) were family members who became faithful Jesus-followers.