FAQ: Difficult Passages Blog #5

Posted on: August 24th, 2017 by E-Free Lethbridge

Matthew 12:46-50

Question: Is Jesus rude to his mother?

You’re probably figuring out by now that a lot of the difficulties we have with the Bible can be resolved, to a large extent, by looking at the context (the first part of our CAPTOR acronym). This passage is no exception.

So, let’s look at what’s happening: Jesus is teaching a crowd of people when someone in the crowd makes him aware that his mother and brothers are outside wanting to speak to him. This is Jesus’ response: “’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.”

Short answer: Yes, Jesus is being ‘rude.’

However, we need to understand the big picture. Mark tells us that Jesus’ mother and brothers were coming to “take charge of him” because they thought Jesus was “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). It is in this context that Jesus gives his response.

However, Jesus isn’t just being rude or trying to put his mother and brothers in their place. According the Craig Keener, it was unheard of to allow ties within the faith community to take precedence over ties within the nuclear family (IVP Bible Background Commentary). This is why, when Jesus called one young man to follow him, the young man responded, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” (Matthew 8:21). This seemed like a reasonable request: let me fulfill my first obligation to my nuclear family and then I will take on my obligation to you. Jesus’ response to the young man was similar to his response to his family: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:22). In other words: your first obligation is to me.

In both instances, Jesus is being culturally offensive, or ‘rude,’ in order to make his point: through Jesus, God is creating a new family. In this new family, our first obligation is to God as our Father and to one another as brothers and sisters. This is still culturally offensive in our religious context today. Evangelicals are known for defending family values. But Jesus’ teaching and example show us that we have to navigate our allegiance to our nuclear family in light of our allegiance to Jesus and our new family.

We have to be careful that we do not value nuclear family at the expense of our allegiance and obligations to our new family. One way to practice this is by including members of our faith community in the rhythms of our nuclear family. The act of making space at our tables, at our family movie nights, or in our family vacations for those who are part of our spiritual family – remembering the single members of our spiritual family – demonstrates that our allegiance extends beyond our nuclear families. We need to remember that Jesus taught that our love for one another would be one of the key markers by which the world would identify us as his followers. This includes how we love those within our nuclear families but it must extend beyond. In fact, Jesus reminds us that our first obligation is to God as our ultimate Father and to one another as brothers and sisters in his family.

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