Ah, family. We love, we laugh, we loathe.
Did Jesus suffer with His family, and knows and shares our grief? Yes.
Jesus knew all too well the vicissitudes of family. Here are just a few examples of the complex family life Jesus had. We will look at several verses recounting the same story.
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.
Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-22 & 31-35)
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matt. 12:46-50)
Can you imagine? Maybe you can: Being misunderstood by others is one thing, but to be misunderstood by your own family, to the point where they come to take charge of you, is devastating. Hadn't he told his parents that he had to be about his Father's business, all those years ago?
Perhaps his family was afraid. The religious leaders were accusing him of being possessed by Satan. Scary, scary stuff. (Later on, Jesus will heal a a man and the man's parents are questioned by the authorities. They tell them to ask the man himself, for they are afraid of being put out of the synagogue, John 9:22.) Was Jesus' family afraid of being put out of the synagogue? Was his family terrified of having his reputation so impugned that they would all be adversely affected?
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)
In Mark and Matthew, Jesus is being accused of being in league with Satan. Luke has him teaching in parables, and his disciples clamoring for an explanation. The essence of this teaching is, by listening sincerely to him, you will understand more and more. Jesus finishes up by saying that for those who do not listen, even what little they know will be removed from them. Then Jesus family shows up, wanting to see him You get that they have a sense of urgency, and have missed what he has been teaching. His words seem to indicate that even those who think they know God and His ways could be walking in the dark. A true disciple, related or not, follows and obeys Jesus.
How often does our family not understand us? When I was searching for truth, and I was seeking God, I told my family. My parents were silent and my brother mocked me.
How often have our families thought they knew what is best for us? How often did they ignore our vocation, and sought to impose on us their own vision of what we should be doing?
How often do those who are closest to us do not really know us?
Let's look at one more incident involving Jesus and his family.
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. "Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:1-3)
Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him. (Matt. 13:54-57)
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. (Luke 4:22)
Mark's version seems to catch the rather upset mood of the crowd at the synagogue. Look at the jab that they take at Jesus: They refer to him as the son of Mary. In Jewish tradition, you are known by your father. Your name is frequently marked with bar- and then your father's name. But noooo. Jesus is being referred to as Mary's son, thus calling into question his paternity. Uh-oh. We have a word for that: a bastard. Father unknown.
Can you imagine Jesus' childhood? The whispers, the gossip spoken just loud enough for his mother, him and his other siblings to hear? The looks, the avoidance, the questions. Nazareth was a small town and small towns, without a lot to keep the people busy, tend to use gossip as a way to add excitement to a rather routine kind of life. Mary's story, the one we tell in cute Christmas pageants with little kids in makeshift costumes with awed voices, was a scandal in Jesus' day.
Matthew's version has the people flummoxed by the wisdom of a "carpenter's son." Still a jab. How could the son of a carpenter possibly possess such wisdom? Hmmm.
Again, look at Jesus' childhood. Joseph was a poor, hard-working father, trying to provide for his family (which seems to be rather large--there are five boys, including Jesus, and any number of sisters.) Everyone can be poor in a town, but people still make distinctions between "us and them." Here you catch a whiff of "Who does Jesus think he is? We all know what his father does. Isn't Jesus stepping outside his station?"
The Scots have an expression: "I know your faither." It means that if you are trying to reach above your station, don't. We all know who your father was, and consequently, you need to stay put. I think this captures the attitude of Jesus' hometown folks pretty well.
Luke knew his largely non-Jewish audience wouldn't catch the insinuation of "Isn't this Mary's son?" or may not be too concerned with the crowd's reaction to his father's line of work or Jesus' wealth of knowledge. I detect that Luke is setting the scene here with a positive response to Jesus' teaching, and how the people here know him, his father and his family. Perhaps this fits with Matthew's take on this, but why then would Luke have used the words "gracious" to describe Jesus' teachings? Well, if you read the rest of the passage, the crowd explodes in fury, and takes him to a cliff to throw him off! Wow.
One more time, think of Jesus' childhood. People thought they knew him--who his father was, the people in his family, and how Jesus should have simply taken on the family business. He certainly should not be doing what he is doing, right?
His paternity, his station in life and how quickly people who thought they knew him, turned on him with a vengeance and sought to destroy him.
Sound familiar? How many of us grew up amidst whispering neighbors, innuendos, criticisms for who we were trying to be, feeling held back by our family or being tormented by those who thought they had a right to control us?
Jesus' family probably at one point in his ministry started living in fear. How could they not after Jesus steps away from the family and their business, only to become an admired, polarizing and scorned public figure?
So, Jesus gets us, our families and our mutual struggles. One last note. James, Jesus' brother, did not become a disciple right away. We meet him in Acts, where he is esteemed as a pillar of the church. Interesting. He finally understood who his brother was. It took awhile though, and James probably went through a lot of soul-searching.
There is hope for our family members as well. Jesus showed us the way: to seek Him first and trust God with the rest.
One final note: We who love Jesus is his family now. And what a family! He understands our frustrations, but models utter patience and grace. Amen to that!