Have we ever wondered what Jesus’s family must have thought of him ? The Gospels give us few clues to their reactions, and this passage is one of them.
Jesus is addressing the crowds when word is brought that his mother and his brothers were outside, wanting to speak to him. Who are these “brothers” ? If one accepts the Church belief in “Blessed Mary ever virgin”, then Jesus had no siblings, whether brothers or sisters. And if one understands even a little of relationships in the extended family that exist in most countries of the East, even today, and how easily cousins are called “brothers” and “sisters”, then this reference poses no problems. Mary and some of Jesus’s cousins were there, wanting to talk to him.
We don’t know how close Jesus was to his family. Was John the Baptist a relation ? Was James, the first bishop of Jerusalem and the author of the New Testament epistle of that name, also a cousin ? We simply don’t know for sure. Mark’s Gospel tells us that at one time his family wanted to put Jesus away, since they thought he was going mad. Probably they also feared what the hostile Pharisees would do to Jesus. John’s Gospel remarks that his cousins were not averse to basking in the fame Jesus received as a public figure.
Jesus’s reply seems harsh: “Who is my mother ? Who are my brothers ?”, but it is consistent with the core of his preaching. Those whom Jesus gathers around him are not marked by bonds of clan and kinship, by blood and race. They are marked by faith. It is faith in Jesus and the One who sent him which distinguishes his disciples from others.
In human society great store is placed on family and communal relationships, and such bonds underscore our sense of entitlement. Not so with Jesus. To place one’s trust in Jesus and to live by his values – “the will of my heavenly Father” – draws persons into a different sort of fellowship, a discipleship whose distinguishing mark is God’s grace humbly received, cherished and expressed in the loving service of one’s neighbour. Whoever that neighbour might be!