Family Business & the Disciple Dare (Luke 8)


Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’

He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’”

Interesting little family moment. It reminds you that Luke talked to people who had been on the spot (like Mary herself, who like Luke himself lived out her last days in Ephesus, and presumably knew Luke there).

And no mention of the father -though if Joseph were much older than Mary, -as is quite possible- he may have died by this time.

But what about the brothers ? The New Testament describes James, Joseph (Joses), Judas (Jude) and Simon as “brothers of Jesus“(adelphoi). Also mentioned, but not named, are the (2) sisters of Jesus.This info is drawn from Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55-56. Another verse in Galatians 1:19 mentions seeing James, “the Lord’s brother.

James and Jude are the only ones mentioned outside the Gospels—James as a leader of the early church in Jerusalem, and Jude in the short letter bearing his name. Originally, Jesus’s family was skeptical of his ministry: “Even his brothers did not believe in him,” says John’s Gospel. Apparently the Resurrection changed their minds, because they joined Mary and the disciples in the Upper Room to wait for the Holy Spirit.

James, probably the oldest of Jesus’ brothers, made the decision at the Jerusalem Council that Gentile Christians did not have to obey ancient Jewish laws. He may have lived an ascetic life and was reported to have spent so much time in prayer that his knees “were like those of a camel.” Jewish historian Josephus reported that Jewish leaders stoned James to death. Eusebius said he was thrown from the top of the temple and beaten to death with a club. It is unclear whether this James or another wrote the letter bearing his name.

Jude’s letter of warning about impostors who had infiltrated the church suggests that he, too, became a respected church leader and perhaps a traveling missionary who saw such problems firsthand.

But before all that, we see very little of the connection between Jesus and his family. During a trip through Galilee, Jesus revisited Nazareth, his hometown. Although he had established himself as a prophet and a healer whose name had become well known in the land, the Nazarenes’ response was so derisive that he exclaimed, “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” (Mark 6:4)

His own kin. His own house. It’s a particular slant on the verse, “He came unto his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1)

We can only imagine the degree of Jesus’s pain at this rejection by those he loved. Perhaps we get some glimpse of it on this occasion when his mother and brothers interrupted a meeting at which he was teaching the gospel. We don’t know the reason for the interruption, but his family may have wanted Jesus to attend to some family matter they felt was important. Here it is again:

Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’

He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’” (Luke 8:19–21.)

Some have considered Jesus’ words to be harsh. But Jesus knew what his family did not yet fully realize—that the bonds of faith and covenant are stronger than the bonds of blood, and that his role as eldest son in the family, which perhaps they honoured, was of little significance compared to his role as Saviour and Redeemer.

And was there something of the poignancy of family-rejection at the Cross, too? Jesus looked down at his weeping mother. She had four other sons, yet it seems that none were present to comfort her. Only John was there. What mixed feelings did Jesus have when he declared to his mother: “Woman, behold thy son!”? “Then from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” (John 19:26–27)

It’s a tough sermon to preach, but the fact is that Jesus summoned people to put their loyalty to him before their loyalty to their own family. In Luke 9, we read the passage which contains perhaps the sharpest expression of that challenge:

He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’

But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’

 Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’

Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

The call to be a disciple is a powerful challenge, and a stark choice. You cannot sit on the fence, or muddle that choice. Ultimately, you have to decide whether Jesus is Lord or not. And if he is, then all your choices are wrapped up in his service.

But God is not a hard taskmaster. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29) and I’ve found it to be joyously true.  I remember when I first began courting Val, (a process of some thirty years now, and counting), and I prayed for our relationship. “Lord,” I asked, “How can I please her? How can I show her my love?”

And the Lord answered immediately and powerfully: “By putting me first. The honour you show me will demonstrate the love you feel for her.”

And so it has proved, all down these long years: the very act of putting God first has become the “same page” upon which we have both stayed. Together.


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