- 31 There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. 32 And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. 33 And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? 34 And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 35 For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.
- Compare: Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 8:19-21
Meet Jesus’ Old Family
In these verses we encounter Jesus’ mother and his brothers. This is a curious inclusion because most Christians today take the perpetual virginity of Mary as a given, which means that Jesus would not have had any siblings at all. His mother isn’t named as Mary at this point, which is also interesting. What does Jesus do when she comes to talk to him? He rejects her!
Meet Jesus’ New Family
Not only does Jesus refuse to go out and see his mother (one likes to think “the multitude” inside would have understood and been able to occupy themselves for a few minutes), but he argues that the people inside are his “real” family. And who are those outside who came to see him? They must not be “family” anymore.
The boundaries of “family” are expanded beyond blood relatives, spouses, and even disciples to include those who hunger for a relationship with God and are willing to do God’s will. It does not, however, include those blood relatives who don’t have the “correct” relationship with God.
On the one hand this is a radical redefinition of what it means to have family and community. Jesus redefines a whole slew of intimate relationships, the boundaries and nature of which had been developed and built up over millennia of Jewish custom. For Jesus, those who work together to fulfill the Will of God are the true family, regardless of any blood kinship they might accidentally share. What really counts are the choices one makes after one is born, not the folks one is related to through no personal decisions.
This was, I am sure, very comforting to the early Christians who were experiencing problems with their own families. The situation for Christians in the first and second centuries would have been rather similar to the situation facing converts to new religious movements today: suspicion, fear, and above all serious pressure from more “traditional” family members who can’t understand what would pull a person away from blood and kin, taking up with those no-good hippies living on that farm.
On the other hand, such passages make the whole “family values” argument of modern evangelical Christians difficult to uphold. Christianity is no longer a “new religious movement.” Christianity is no longer a radical belief system that takes people away from parents and siblings; it has stopped being a challenge to the system and now is “the system.” Jesus’ message simply doesn’t make as much sense in the context of a powerful, dominant, and pervasively Christianized society.
Evangelical Christians in America today portray themselves as staunch defenders of family values — not so much because they are simply good people, but rather because they are such good followers of the principles set down by Jesus. According to them, asking Jesus for forgiveness and following what God wants of you will naturally make you a better mother, a better father, a better sibling, and so forth. In short, family values come from being the sort of good Christian Jesus expects you to be.
What sorts of “family values” did Jesus promote? In the gospel stories we don’t see him saying much about families. What we do see, however, isn’t very inspiring and doesn’t appear to be the sort of role model that one would expect for America today.