MATTHEW 12:46-50
Pp Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21

The Incident

There are two recognised parallel passages to this one in Matthew, each of which are remarkably similar.

Mark 3:31-35 actually begins with a statement in 3:20-21 which appears to be the impetus behind Jesus’ family wanting to get close to Jesus to speak with Him. It reads (my italics) that

‘...the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. And when His family heard it, they went out to seize Him, for people were saying “He is beside Himself”’

going on to record the statement of the Jerusalemite scribes and Pharisees of Mtw 12:24 that He was casting out demons by none other than satan himself before a version of Mtw 12:25-32 is recorded (Mark 3:23-30).

Notice here that the word rendered ‘family’ is an interpretation rather than a direct translation for the word could mean, simply, ‘friends’ or ‘relatives’. It’s rendered this way because, from Mark 3:31, it’s Jesus’ direct family who are being described.

That Jesus was considered to be ‘out of His mind’ is certainly illuminative and goes far beyond what we would have understood simply by the scribal statement that Jesus was operating by a power opposed to that of God. Marklane points out that some manuscripts attempt to remove the reference to the charge of insanity because

‘ some quarters of the Church it was considered inconceivable that anyone should regard Jesus as insane’

and so render Mark 3:21 wholly differently than our modern translations. But this does, indeed, appear to be the charge which was levelled against Him and which is further interpreted by the RSV’s use of the word ‘people’ for the ‘they’ which should have been used could be taken to refer to the ‘friends’ or ‘family’ of the preceding few lines rather then to a third party.

It’s quite possible, therefore, that when His family heard the things being reported concerning what was happening, they decided that Jesus must have lost His contact with reality and so rushed out to locate Him to reduce the shame of the both the family and the family name. Alternatively, it may have been that such considerations about His sanity were being spoken by those around them and that they acted with speed to try put right what was giving them cause for concern (such as making an attempt at a kidnapping to remove Him from the crowds that were clamouring after Him!).

His immediate family were certainly not ones who came to understand Jesus’ mission or calling during His ministry years and even, at one point, challenged Him to make Himself known at the festival at which the Jews were expecting the Messiah to appear (John 7:3-5 - see my notes on the 'Feast of Tabernacles’ under section 3bi) even though there appears to have been some repentance in their own lives following both the crucifixion and resurrection (Acts 1:14).

Mary, His mother, represents an interesting character at this point. When the time came for the angel to be revealed to her and to instruct her as to the nature of the baby that she was carrying, she was told plainly (Luke 1:35) that

‘...the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God’

and the events which took place at the time of His birth (Luke 2:8-20) were not just remembered by her but (Luke 2:19) she continued

‘...pondering them in her heart’

At His circumcision, eight days after His birth, a word was spoken to her (Luke 2:34-35) which spoke of Jesus as being

‘...a sign that is spoken against’

And, around twelve years later, when Jesus stayed behind in the Temple when Joseph and herself were returning to Nazareth, He asked the rhetorical question to His parents (Luke 2:49)

‘Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?’

and, even though it’s recorded that both of them failed to understand what He’d said to them (Luke 2:50), it’s also noted (Luke 2:51) that Mary

‘...kept all these things in her heart’

But, by the time that Jesus has been immersed in water by John the Baptist and begun His ministry, when the crowds were increasing to the extent that He had little time even to eat (Mark 3:20) and opposition was already mounting against Him by the recognised religious authorities of the land (Mark 3:22), Mary doesn’t appear to have realised that what she’d both experienced and been told was starting to be fulfilled and, along with the immediate members of the family, approach Jesus to try and ‘do something’.

Such, then, appears to have been the context of the incident.

The parallel passage in Luke (8:19-21) is the only one of the three which informs us the reason for the family standing outside or away from the place where Jesus was. It records that, although they might have liked to have reached Him

‘...they could not...for the crowd’

The passage occurs after a separate discourse recorded by Luke and not in the context of the previous Matthean passage concerning the demand for a sign (Luke 11:14-32). I have, however, taken Luke’s record as being a record of the same incident, even though others may feel that the event was repeated on another separate occasion. It does represent a précised account when compared to both Mark’s and Matthew’s.

Finally, Mtw 11:47 is normally taken as being a later addition by a copyist to the text because those manuscripts regarded as being the earliest don’t contain it. However, whether it’s accepted as part of the original or omitted, it makes no difference to the overall message of the passage and Mtw 12:48’s

‘And He replied...’

infers that someone had been sent to inform Jesus that His family were wanting to see Him which Mtw 12:47 records.

The Incident
Mtw 12:46-50

Before we begin a consideration of this passage, we should note a couple of points which bear indirectly on it.

That Joseph isn’t mentioned in any of the records concerning the family is normally taken as an inference that, by this time, he was dead. Although this remains uncertain, the fact that Jesus’ showed care for His mother on the cross and committed her into the welfare of one of His disciples (John 19:26-27) and which, being the eldest, it was His responsibility to do, points towards the more than likely possibility that Joseph had long since been buried.

The doctrine of the continual virginity of Mary (which raised its head within the Church at a fairly late date) seems pointless dealing with at length here seeing as the most obvious interpretation of the statement that Jesus had brothers is that they were born by natural procreation between Mary and Joseph after the birth of Jesus, their first born. There’s no indication that Mary continued in her virginal state any longer than upto the birth of Jesus and most disputes concerning this are normally based on silences within the text and reinterpretations of passages which stand perfectly well read as they appear.

Moving on to the passage, then, Matfran notes that there’s a fair amount of uncertainty in how the family had responded to His teaching

‘...but the contrast between their standing outside and the inner circle of His “true” family suggests their lack of whole-hearted response’

but this inference derived from their action needn’t be correct. It’s equally possible that the family realised that there was no opportunity while the crowds were there to ‘seize Him’ (Mark 3:21) seeing as those who were receiving their healing or who were ‘queuing’ for just such a purpose would never let them snatch Him away.

It was surely better that they attempted to have Him come to them in order that they might draw Him away from the multitudes - that the crowds were not impenetrable can be seen from the man who makes it through to where Jesus is teaching and healing and one of His younger brothers could have pushed his way through the crowd had they wished only to get word to Him. But their purpose, as related by Mark, had been not to speak with Him but to take Him away!

Luke’s statement that they were unable to reach Him because of the crowd (Luke 8:19-21) needs to be seen in this context that their purposes would have gone unfulfilled had they pushed their way through from the outer edge where they were waiting.

However, as we saw previously in my introduction, it’s fairly certain that the family’s response to Jesus’ teaching was negative - at least until the time of the resurrection - but their ‘standing outside’ really doesn’t indicate this at all.

It’s apparent that the family seem to have been claiming special rights over Jesus that they could call Him to themselves even when He was speaking to the crowds (notice that it was ‘while He was still speaking to the people’ that the family approached) but that Jesus saw in their interruption a hindrance to the work He’d been given by God.

However, Jesus’ words don’t stand as a stern rebuke to Mary and His brothers (we aren’t told that Jesus did not see them, this is left open) but as an opportunity seized to proclaim to the crowds the relationship towards Him of all who had truly heard Him with a correct response - they were His true spiritual family, the family that the Father had promised to all who forsake their earthly family’s will in order to carry out the will of God (Mark 10:28-30).

Matmor is right to point out that

‘...Jesus makes it plain that, in ministry, His relation to His family is different from what it had been in the days of His growing up’

the reason being that now His first loyalty must be to the fulfilling of the call of God upon His life (as it would have been prior to His call, of course, but now that will conflicted with earthly loyalties), something which Mary should have been all too aware of if she was to think back to what had already transpired surrounding Him in former times (discussed in the introduction above).

Jesus has already spoken concerning the need for the disciple to not place his heart in family relationships in Mtw 10:34-37 and has stated that

‘...a man’s foes will be those of his own household’

Those who would pride themselves on good relationships within their own natural families and who held up their families as being of such great importance were to be under no illusions - following Jesus meant that these were in danger of being soundly broken if the disciple was committed to following after the will of God. Even worse, that the family might be the very place where natural and expected security and protection disappeared, to be replaced by persecution (Mtw 10:35-36) and betrayal (Mtw 10:21).

A danger here would be to think of Jesus’ statement as teaching that family ties had no importance attached to them whatsoever but, as Matmor writes

‘Jesus is not saying that earthly familial ties are unimportant, only that they are not all-important. Doing the will of God is all-important’

This is the same intention behind the declaration of a woman in the crowd and Jesus’ response which took place sometime around the events of the last passage we’ve just considered (Mtw 12:38-45) recorded for us only in Luke 11:27-28. The woman declares that

‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!’

to which Jesus responds by saying that

‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’

immediately removing any idea that the crowds may have got that there was something important to be attached to a family which superseded a correct response to the revealed will of God. Far better to actively obey God than to have been a part of Jesus’ natural family - and, for that matter, far better it is for men and women to have responded positively to the message of the Gospel when it comes to them than to think that they were either the son or the father of some great preacher or other (John 1:13)!

Though the chapter has been dealing with persecution and rejection, it closes with a declaration that there is a family within which Jesus will be accepted - those who are eager to do the will of the One who sent Him into the world. Jesus is recorded as

‘...stretching out His hand towards His disciples...’

and indicating that there were those who’d responded positively to the message of the Gospel in contrast to the general response to His message from that generation of Jews and the religious leaders (Mtw 12:34,39,45).

It’s certain, therefore, that Jesus’ summation of the nation as being ‘evil and adulterous’ was a broad generalisation of the overall trend within the people but that there were ones who were responding favourably to the message that was being brought to them.