Jesus' true family, 8:19-21


While Jesus is speaking to a large group of people, his mother and brothers arrive and try to make their way to him, but they are unable to get through the crowd. When Jesus is told that his family wants to see him, he announces that his family consists of those who hear the word of God and do it. Physical descent is not the basis of relationships in God's new kingdom, but rather faith.

The passage

v19-20. Luke does not tell us why Jesus' family want to see him. Mark, in his gospel, seems to imply that Jesus' family is worried about things getting out of hand, what with the great crowds that Jesus is now attracting. So, they try to intervene on his behalf. Anyway, Luke tells us none of this. In fact, we are really not sure to what degree his family believe in him. Obviously Mary had a deep insight into his messianic credentials, but it seems that other family members were slow to put their faith in him. Nor are we quite sure about the setting. It would seem Jesus is in a house, squashed full of people, but then in the previous incident Jesus was speaking with a large crowd out in the open. Again, it's not important. So, Jesus' family try to make their way to him, but they are unable to get through the crowd and so the message is passed on to Jesus that his family is outside waiting to see him.

v21. Jesus' response seems somewhat harsh, as though he has just disowned his family. Of course Jesus' words do not negate family bonds, but they do emphasize the importance of the new set of relationships now found in Christ. In God's new kingdom we discover a set of loving relationships which are eternal in nature. As for the basis of this eternal family, Jesus makes it clear that it rests on both hearing God's word and putting it into practice. The language of "hearing" and "doing" is a little confusing to our ears since "doing" sounds very like obedience. The NIV has translated the Greek word "doing" as "put into practice" to help us understand what Jesus is saying. We must take careful note of God's words to us in Christ, and rest on those promises in faith, believe in Christ for our salvation. So, Jesus is simply making the point that faith is the basis of God's eternal family.


Discuss the issue of the responsibilities we face in church and home. Provide examples where priorities need to be balanced and suggest possible resolutions.

The family of God

Some years ago I got into an argument with a fellow believer which, to this day, I have never quite resolved. I took the view that my Christian family, my fellow believers, had a greater claim on my person, my time, my attention, my energy, ...., a greater claim than did my flesh and blood family, my parents, my wife and children. He took the view that his immediate family had a prior claim on his person, whether believers or not. I certainly had a few Bible verses to support my argument, for example Luke 14:26, but then he had a few verses to support his case. It's interesting how we play the I have more verses than you game.

Anyway, I guess I have tried to balance both claims during my life, although I have tried to prioritize my Christian responsibilities. This has affected the time I have allocated to my family and now, as I look back over my life's journey, I wonder whether the balance was badly skewed. I remember, with some shame, that I was too busy to attend my grandparent's funerals because of some church commitment. That I failed to honor them is unforgivable. So, was my friend right?

Jesus' family wanted to see him. We have no right to speculate about their intentions; it would be totally unfair to suggest that their intentions were improper or misguided. They just want to see him and he responds by saying that his family is made up of those who have come to believe in him, or using his exact words, "those who hear the word of God and put it into practice." So, does Jesus take the responsibility he has for his natural family and now apply them to the family of faith? We know that he actually doesn't do this. While facing death on the cross he takes the time to make sure his mother is cared for, Jn.19:25-26.

The problem we face is one of balance, of living in the world, but apart from the world; of living with one foot in heaven and one on earth. In the Christian life we constantly face the tension of the now and the not yet. This tension will never be resolved until eternity. So, when it comes to the responsibilities we have for family and church, let us honor both, the best we can.

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