Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?
by Jack Wald | March 29th, 2020

Matthew 12:46-50

When Matthew wrote his gospel, he did not randomly pick stories to tell about Jesus. He was writing to Jews and wanted to show how Jesus fulfilled prophecy in the Hebrew Bible, what we call the Old Testament. He began with the genealogy of Jesus, showing that Jesus was descended from David and Abraham. Jesus did not pop up out of the ground; his feet were firmly established in the hierarchy of Jewish history.

Matthew’s account begins with the birth of Jesus, moves through his baptism, into his public ministry, and then focuses on the arrest, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

In chapters 11 and 12 Matthew assembled stories that showed the wide variety of responses to Jesus. John the Baptist asked from his prison cell if Jesus was truly the Messiah. Jesus pronounced judgment on unrepentant towns. The Pharisees challenged Jesus about his observance of the Sabbath. Crowds came to Jesus to be healed and hear what he had to say. When Jesus healed and delivered a demon-possessed man who was deaf and mute, the Pharisees accused him of being in partnership with the devil. And then we come to this morning’s text, when Jesus’ mother and brothers came to try to speak to him. We know from Mark’s account that they wanted to take him home because they thought he was “out of his mind.”

There were many different responses to Jesus, just as today there are many different responses to Jesus.

Let me read the text for this morning. (Matthew 12:46–50)
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.”

In Matthew 1 & 2 we read about the birth of Jesus, the family fleeing to Egypt, and then returning to Nazareth. In chapter 4, after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. (Matthew 4:13) There is no indication that any of his family moved with him. We know that his sisters stayed in Nazareth.

After some time of ministry in Capernaum Jesus returned to his hometown and taught in the synagogue in Nazareth. People were amazed, but rejected him. They asked, (Matthew 13:53–57)
“Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

The next mention of the family of Jesus comes in the passage for this morning and then there is no more mention of Jesus’ family in Matthew’s gospel. The family of Jesus does not seem to be significant in sharing the good news of Jesus. The emphasis is on a different family.

What did Jesus teach about family?

Jesus taught that loyalty to him was more important than loyalty to parents or children. (Matthew 10:37)
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Who was Jesus’ family? He said, (Matthew 12:50)
For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Jesus promised that those who followed him would be part of a large family. (Mark 10:29–30)
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.

We leave home and become God’s children. (1 John 3:1)
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

We become the people of God. (1 Peter 2:9–10)
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Jesus used the visit of his mother and half-brothers to make the point that his disciples were his true family.

“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.”

I have some difficulties with this passage.

  1. Although I have emotionally close relationships with followers of Jesus who are not related to me by blood, my connection with my sisters has a tighter hold on me than other relationships. Is it true that my relationship with brothers and sisters in the body of Christ is more important to me than my relationship with my family members?

When I send emails, I sign off with “God be with you.” Our modern word goodbye has its origin in “God be with you.” Over time this phrase shortened into goodbye. This seems to me to be the most profound thing I can say to someone. What I want for the person I am sending the email to is that they know that God is present with them.

There are a very few people who are not related to me that I sign off my emails to them with Love. And yet, although I am more in contact with many people than I am with my sisters, when I send an email to my sisters and their husbands, my nieces and nephews, my daughters and their husbands, my grandchildren, my mother-in-law, I sign off with Love.

When I became a follower of Jesus, I was part of a student group in our church, Park Street Church in Boston. There were about six hundred of us and we had a very active, alive, stimulating, loving fellowship. When I was reading through the Bible for the first time, Psalm 16:3 jumped out to me. It expressed my deep joy in being in such a vibrant relationship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Psalm 16:3 (NASB95)
As for the saints who are in the earth,
They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.

Through the years, this has been one of my favorite verses in the Bible because of my rich relationships with brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

When I was in seminary, I spoke at a Wednesday evening prayer meeting at our church, Park Street Church. A sailor with the Coast Guard (the coastal defense, search and rescue, and maritime law enforcement branch of the United States Armed Forces) attended the meeting and we went out to get something to eat afterwards. We immediately became good friends. We did a lot together. We played basketball and one afternoon almost had the opportunity to play against a team with two of the Boston Celtics, professional basketball players. Fortunately, that did not happen. It would have been far too embarrassing for me. Ken had played for the Coast Guard Academy team but I had only played in high school.

Ken was only stationed in Boston for a short time but in that time we had a very strong and affectionate friendship. Today I have no idea where he is. We lost contact with each other.

I have not seen two of my sisters for four or five years and yet I have never lost contact with them. I know where they are. Yesterday I met with my five sisters on Zoom and we had a great time talking, sharing what is happening during the covid-19 lockdown, reconnecting. One of my sisters is a physician assistant and was too sick to talk. She has had contact with patients over the last few weeks and we are worried about her. We hope and pray she does not have covid-19.

There is an emotional connection with family members that endures more than in friendships with people we are not related to. Even when I have a deeper affection for people not related to me than I do with some people I am related to, relationships with family members endure.

What happens when a friend dies? Do we fly back to our home country for the funeral?

My closest friend when I lived in New Jersey before coming to Morocco to be pastor of RIC, was Michael Prewitt. For three years he suffered from a brain tumor, glioblastoma. I visited him when I went back each year to the US and at the end of his life, when he was on hospice, it coincided with a trip I was making to the US. I flew into Philadelphia, rented a car, and arrived at his house an hour after he died. I missed being able to talk with him, but I was able to go to his funeral.

But if I had not been coming back to the US, I don’t think I would have flown back to go to his funeral. On the other hand, if one of my sisters or their husbands died, I would probably fly back to go to their funeral. Family has a stronger pull on us than the friends we have.

  1. A second problem I have with this text is that it is used by cults to pull people away from their family and take them deeper into the cult.

Cults take this passage and use it to cut the emotional ties people have with their family and strengthen the emotional ties cult members have with their cult.

When I was in the process of becoming a follower of Jesus, a young woman used to stop by my room in the dorm where I lived. Her boyfriend lived at the end of the hall and she would stop and talk with me about Jesus. It was at her encouragement that I began to pray, asking if there was a God, that he would let me know he was real.

She was an enthusiastic follower of Jesus but her parents were disturbed by her devotion to what they considered to be a cult and took her out of the university and back home.

What would they think if they read the Bible and came across this verse in the gospel of Luke, (Luke 14:26)
If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

You could explain to them that this was a Hebrew way of saying that we have to love God more than family, but even that goes against the value of family in culture.

  1. A third problem I have with this passage is that is seems very harsh to me. Mary, the mother of Jesus, James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, the brothers of Jesus, came to bring Jesus home. They were worried about him. They had been shamed by him when he came to Nazareth and claimed to be the Messiah. They were dishonored in the eyes of their friends and neighbors in Nazareth. So they came to restore honor by bringing Jesus home. Mark says that they (Mark 3:20–21)
    went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

When Jesus challenged the hypocrisy of the Pharisees he lifted up the fifth of the ten commandments. (Matthew 15:4)
For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’

And yet when he so cooly dismissed his mother and brothers who came to see him, rejecting them and saying his true family were his disciples, wasn’t he dishonoring his mother?

These are some of my difficulties with this passage. In what way is this teaching of Jesus true?

I have an earthly family, but who will be my family in heaven? While I am on earth, I may have a more enduring relationship with my earthly family, but that will change when I am in heaven.

How long will we be on earth with our family? Sixty, seventy, eighty years – maybe more, maybe less. How long will we be in heaven with our heavenly family? Eternity.

As followers of Jesus we are called to love others in the name of Jesus, but Jesus taught that there is a special responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ because they are our eternal family.

It may be, and we hope that it will be, that our parents, our siblings, our grandparents, our aunts and uncles, our cousins, our nieces, our grandchildren will be with us in heaven.

In the early church, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and as least two of Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, were leaders in the church. Jesus’s mother and brothers became his sons and daughter, his sister and brothers.

My mother died strongly antagonistic to faith in God. She rejected God and was bitterly opposed to faith in Jesus. My father died completely indifferent to what would happen after death. I pray and I hope that Jesus has somehow reached through to them, healed the pain in my mother’s heart, awakened the spiritual side of my father.

But salvation is a mystery. I don’t know who will be in heaven. I hope I will be in heaven. I want to live now in a way that will bless my eternal family.

This makes my relationship with followers of Jesus more powerful than my relationship with my earthly family.

It does not mean I love my earthly family less; it does mean that I understand that my relationship with God is more important than my relationship with my family.

What are the implications of this for us?

  1. No relationship on earth is as important as our relationship with Jesus.

My father had twin brothers. One of them served in the Pacific theater of WWII. He drove trucks in the Army and while he was there, he came in contact with some missionaries in the islands of the Pacific and made a commitment to follow Jesus. When he returned from the war, his wife told him, “You can have Jesus or you can have me. You choose.” He chose his wife.

This is a sad story. My uncle missed out on the joy and peace of being in a relationship with Christ. I hope that, somehow, he has returned to the faith he found in the Pacific.

There is no relationship on earth more important than our relationship with Jesus. If we are forced to choose between family and Jesus, we choose Jesus.

  1. A second implication is that we don’t get to pick our earthly brothers and sisters and we do not get to pick our heavenly brothers and sisters.

In cultures where there are many churches, people church shop. When they move into a new community, they visit churches, trying them on to see how they fit. When they find a church they like, it is likely they will find a church with a lot of people like themselves, with similar interests and backgrounds. This gives the church a narrow identity. The people in the church are Baptists or Pentecostals, or Anglicans, or Methodists. In fact, the identity will be even more narrow, black Baptists or white Pentecostals or Asian Presbyterians.

This is one of the huge advantages we have as an international church in Rabat. We do not have the opportunity to church shop and have to settle in with a lot of people who are not like us, don’t have the same culture, don’t have the same theological background, don’t have the same style of worship and prayer.

As a result, we experience more what it will be like when we come into our heavenly home than most churches in the world. Jesus is at work in the world, in all the world. Jesus wants every person on earth to choose to follow him. Jesus works with the rich diversity of people in the world and at RIC we have the privilege of celebrating some of that rich diversity.

  1. A third implication is that we have to overcome our prejudices to welcome the people Jesus brings into his family.

Everyone has prejudices. Countries have national prejudices, regional prejudices. Racial prejudice is a huge problem. Even in the church it is a problem.

A few years ago there was a man from Switzerland who was the pastor of the French EEAM church in Fez. There were white and black French speakers who attended the church. When he left and an African took over as pastor, the white French speakers disappeared. The EEAM church in Fez is now a black church.

Elliot invited a man from the US to speak at Joyful Hour, the Fellowship of Champions International service that follows our Sunday morning service. Afterwards, he was talking with one of the students from an African nation who was upset. “Why did you invite that white man to speak in our service?” This student read a lot of history and knew about the oppression of white Europeans as they colonized African nations and stole the riches of Africa to make themselves wealthy.

Two or three years ago I read King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa. It is an emotionally difficult book to read. King Leopold II of Belgium decided to carve out a part of Africa for himself and from 1885 to 1908 he took ivory and rubber from the Congo to enrich himself and enrich Belgium. He sadistically abused the people of Congo to take the riches. An estimated 10,000,000 Congolese were killed by Leopold’s agents in Congo.

In 1960 Patrice Lumumba was elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Because the West feared they would lose control of the riches of Congo, President Eisenhower and the CIA actively encouraged the assassination of Lumumba.

The Western nations have exploited the riches of Africa to make themselves rich and are still doing that today. Today it is done legally. Bribes are no longer paid, but the money companies pay is taken by a select few and never gets to the people of the countries.

The delta region of Nigeria used to be rich in agriculture and fishing but now, because of the pollution from oil companies, the land and sea has been spoiled. As a result, the delta region is a dangerous place to live with bandits and kidnappers abounding. They can no longer make a living from farming or fishing so they have to resort to other means to make money.

The European colonization of Africa may have brought some benefits, but it has a terribly sad and painful history.

So I understand this student’s anger.

Did the American who spoke at Joyful Hour do any of those things? No. But he comes from a country that has benefitted from the resources that have been and continue to be taken out of Africa.

There is good reason for our prejudices. There have been great injustices done in the past and those injustices have been institutionalized into the present. We need help to overcome our prejudices.

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?

Jonah discovered, to his horror, that the Ninevites who invaded his country were his brothers and sisters. The early church discovered that their persecutor, Saul, was now their brother.

Jesus turns our prejudices upside down. The people we despise are the people he loves and willingly died for. As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, as we become more aware of how much loved we are, our prejudices begin to melt and reconciliation becomes possible.

Chuck Colson led a prison ministry in the US and tells the story of a meeting of two men. One was Tommy Tarrants who was obsessed by hatred of blacks, Jews, and communists. He became an extremist. A crack marksman and explosives expert, Tommy became a coldly efficient terrorist, joining the White Knights, the most violent wing of the Ku Klux Klan.

He was captured in a gun battle, went to prison, escaped, was caught again and put in a solitary cell for one year. There, his reading progressed from extremist propaganda to philosophy to the Gospel.

Guards and inmates alike soon noticed the change in him. The intensity of his hatred was redirected to a passionate hungering for the Lord. Tommy became a model prisoner and soon a leader among inmates.

Chuck Colson led prison seminars where he met Tarrants. He also came into contact with Eldridge Cleaver who had been a member of the Black Panthers. The Black Panthers advocated violent resistance to the racism in the US and Cleaver was filmed at a rally, crying out, “Kill the pigs! (A derogatory term for policemen) Rape the white women!:

Cleaver fled the US and was a fugitive exile for eight years. He voluntarily returned to the US and was put in jail. While in jail he experienced a conversion to faith in Christ.

Colson brought Eldridge Cleaver to a meeting with some inmates, including Tommy Tarrants. A former violent racist and a former violent Black Panther.

Colson writes:
Eldridge was gracious when I introduced the two and briefly outlined Tommy’s background. “We both have a lot to live down, don’t we?” Eldridge said, gripping Tommy’s hand and looking straight into his eyes.

As I stared at the two men standing under the glow of the chandelier in the center hall, for a moment I was frozen in time. This could have been the first meeting between two of the original apostles, Matthew and Simon the Zealot. Matthew was a despised collaborator with the Roman Empire, Simon a fervent Jewish nationalist working for the violent overthrow of the Roman oppressors. Anywhere but in the company of Jesus, Simon would have thrust a knife into the hated Matthew.

The dinner was unforgettable. … Several inmates, including Tommy Tarrants, told of their own experiences with Christ. Cleaver stared at Tommy, trying to look into his soul. [Cleaver’s wife] Maxine, who had explained that she was a nonbelieving Jewess, sat wide-eyed, hardly touching her food. Sensing that the deeply spiritual talk might be offensive to her, I walked around the table to where she was sitting. “I suppose we may seem a little strange to you—a little crazy, perhaps.”

Maxine looked up. “Well, if you are, then the whole world ought to be crazy like this.” …

What a strange collection of people. … Here were men who represented opposite poles culturally, politically, socially; it would be unthinkable in the world’s eyes that they could come together for any purpose. Yet on this night they prayed together, wept together, and embraced—joined together by the power of the Holy Spirit in a fraternity that transcends all others.

  1. A fourth implication is that when we find our prejudices too great to overcome, we need to consider the example of Jesus who decided to become human.

How did people treat God over the years before Jesus came? God was used and abused. God was pushed aside into a dark corner while the people he chose worshiped other gods. They chose to sacrifice babies to Baal, engaged in temple prostitution, chose all kinds of evil. They rejected the law God gave to Moses and used dishonest and unjust means to profit for themselves. Read through the prophets and see how their behavior provoked God to great anger.

What was God’s response to insult, ridicule, defiance, indifference, rebellion? He came to earth, became human, because only in this way could he bring the people he loves into his eternal kingdom.

Terry Clark is one of the pioneers of contemporary Christian music. Let me share his story of how he became a follower of Jesus.

Click here to watch Terry Clark’s testimony and a song he wrote and then come back to the sermon.

Terry Clark was so deeply hurt by all he saw, by all he participated in, and chose to reject humanity. He rejected his own humanity. He was embarrassed to be human. And then Jesus spoke to him.

“Jesus said ‘Terry, I know how you feel—I’ve seen everything human beings have ever done–but I want you to understand the difference in our response to that. You’ve decided not to be a human being and I’ve decided to become one.'”

We need the deep love of Jesus. We need the healing that comes from the deep love of Jesus. We need a heart transplant that gives us a heart that loves like Jesus loves.

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?

Our community at RIC is your mother and your brothers and sisters.

The followers of Jesus in Wuhan, China are your brothers and sisters. The followers of Jesus facing severe persecution in North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Pakistan, Eritrea, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, and Iran are your brothers and sisters.

The followers of Jesus around the world who are suffering from covid-19 are our brothers and sisters.

When we read or watch the news stories from around the world, these are events that affect our eternal family. We should not be dispassionate about what happens around the world. Watch the news and then pray for your eternal family who are affected.

Followers of Jesus from countries you do not like are your brothers and sisters. Followers of Jesus with political views you find distasteful are your brothers and sisters. Followers of Jesus who have hurt you, offended you, betrayed you, are your brothers and sisters.

If Jesus only brought people into his kingdom who were nice to him, there would not be many people in his kingdom. Most of us would not be in his kingdom.

Jesus came into this world to make us his friends, to make us God’s beloved daughters and God’s beloved sons. As we have been loved, let us love one another.

(1 John 4:7–12)
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.