Matthew 12:46-50: Who Is My Family?

Today I am going to dive into an interesting event that happened during Jesus’ ministry which gives us an insight into both his natural family and spiritual family. My notes below are full of background speculation about his family but I believe as you read on you will agree that it is very plausible speculation.

In three Gospels (Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21) we get the same story about Mary and several of Jesus’ brothers coming to meet him. They waited outside the building and Jesus was soon made aware of their arrival. He then gave a small sermonette, telling the crowd that his true family were not his flesh and blood but those who were obedient to his father (Matthew 12, Mark 3), or hear the word of God and obey it (Luke 8).

Jesus’ Natural Family

As a human, Jesus was born into and raised by a human family. So, the scene begins with the arrival of Mary and several of Jesus’ brothers. So, who were they? We know from Matthew 13:55-57 that Jesus had four younger brothers born to Mary and Joseph. They were James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. The passage also says, are not his sisters all with us. This implies at least three younger sisters, possibly four but we will go with three.

So, we are talking of a family that had at least 8 children if you include Jesus. Assuming Mary was 18 years old when she became pregnant with the Lord, and Jesus was around 32 years old at the time of this incident, this would put Mary at around 50 years of age when she came to see him. She would very likely have had one or more teenage children still living at home, while several of her adult children were probably married with their own families.

At her age she could still probably get around in a spritely fashion and could also afford to leave her younger children at home in the care of older siblings and travel a bit. So, for one of the few times in her life, she did.

The fact that she turns up in the company of her sons and without her husband is instructive. These sons would have been two or more of the four boys mentioned above, but probably those that were still single and working locally near the family’s Nazareth home. Where was Joseph? He was not mentioned so must have been either deceased or incapacitated. Since he was a lot older than Mary when they married this is a fair assumption.

Jesus left Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry some two years earlier and had set up his home base in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). So, Mary would not have seen much of her son for the last two years. At some point Mary would have heard so many reports and rumours about her son that she expressed a wish to her children that she wanted to go and see for herself firsthand what her now famous first son was up to. Every proud mum loves to see their kids achieve great things and Mary would have been no different, probably more so because of who she knew her son to be.

Or perhaps she was annoyed from listening to her adult male children dismissing these reports of what Jesus was doing and calling him a crazy man (Mark 3:21, John 7:3-5). Was there sibling jealousy that she decided to address by taking some of them to meet Jesus and see for themselves what he was doing? After all we know that his brother James was not a follower until after the resurrection. These men knew Jesus from childhood so it would have been a monumental mental shift for them to come to accept him as the Messiah.

Regardless of the rationale for the trip, it would have been inconceivable that an older woman would travel alone in that era (Luke 10:25-37), so she was chaperoned by her sons along the dusty Galilean roads from Nazareth to lake Galilee where we know Jesus was at the time (Matthew 13:1-2). The journey would have taken two days as it is around 40 kilometres from Nazareth to the lake, and 50 kilometres to Capernaum.

The distant memory of the angelic visitation, the three wise men and the drama of Jesus early life, as well as the miracle of the water turned into wine in Cana (John 2:9), would have come flooding back to her as reports started to come to her in Nazareth of miracles, healings, the dead being raised, and the prickly confrontations with the religious authorities. These thoughts would have filled her with anticipation as she walked.

And this is where the Biblical narrative cuts in.

After Jesus had finished teaching in this house he moved down to the lake and taught large crowds from a boat just offshore (Matthew 13). This was when he told them the stories of the sower and the four types of seeds, the wheat and the tares, the great catch of fish, the yeast, the mustard seed and the pearl of great price. So, Mary and the brothers of Jesus were present for all these powerful messages. Were any of them sent as a hint to his brothers about their fate if they continued their mockery and disbelief?

After Jesus had finished teaching he then proceeded to travel back to his hometown of Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58). We can safely assume he was travelling with his mum and the brothers that come with her. We can also safely assume he was going back to pay a visit to his human family and would have stayed with them while there. Once again he started teaching in the local synagogue, but was on the whole rejected by his hometown.

Jesus’ spiritual family

As the creator of the universe and second in the trinity, Jesus was already part of a spiritual “family” and dearly wanted us humans to join it. This is why he often spoke about his Heavenly Father and himself as the Son of God. His most important instructional prayer began with the single word; Father (Matthew 6:9-13). These are human terms that we can relate to, otherwise it gets a bit complicated for our small brains.

So in this passage Matthew recorded for posterity the fact that Jesus shifted the perspective for his listeners to the reality that pervades all the physical and spiritual dimensions of the universe and beyond. This reality was the very essence of his mission on earth. His purpose was to depopulate hell and populate heaven, to invite humanity into a spiritual family that would enjoy the presence of our generous creator-dad forever. Jesus was telling everyone who would listen in that room that God was not a tyrant, not a stern legalistic judge, not demanding we grovel through a lifetime of duty and works, not uncaring and not distant. He was a loving, caring abba, a dad.

He was on a mission to adopt us back in to his family!

So, why wouldn’t he have said what he said, even though on a human level it may have been confronting for the family. But for all the others there that day it was a lightning bolt of revelation and hope. For those locked out of the straitjacket of the ridiculous religious systems of ancient Israel this was the most amazing news: For the prostitutes (Matthew 21:32), the tax collectors (Matthew 9:10), the Samaritans (John 4:39), those living beyond the borders of Israel (Mark 3:8), the poor in spirit, the physically poor, the meek, the mourners, the hungry, the merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted (Matthew 5:3-11), the prodigals (Luke 15: 11-32), and women (John 12:3), the  demon possessed (Matthew 8:28-34), the sick and lame (Matthew 9:27-34).

The list goes on for 2,000 years. These people now had a family. They had a future. They had hope. They had heaven. We too have a future and hope and heaven if we accept the free gift of adoption into this family through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The promise continues. The brokenness of sin and Satan that infects almost every human on the planet has a cure, not in drugs, alcohol, fame, fortune or pride, but in the heart healing adoption into the most loving family in the universe.

Passing On The Blessing

This eternal promise was brought home to me powerfully six years ago. After having raised our three children to adulthood and accumulated enough to be able to do a spot of travelling in retirement, we were confronted with a life-changing choice. My wife’s stepfather’s eleven year old grandchild needed a home. She had been raised by my wife’s mum until my wife’s mum died when the child was six, then by her grandfather on his own until he too died when she was eleven. We were next in line…if we would accept her into our family. My wife had known for many years in her heart that we would eventually be raising this cherished child. I didn’t!!!!

So, as I was emotionally wrestling, praying and thinking things through, the Holy Spirit spoke very clearly to me one day and said I adopted you into my family so now its time to pass on the gift and blessing. Boom! Gone were my dreams of travel, a comfortable retirement and helping my wife through her continuing cancer journey. After the Lord spoke it was all over. How could we not take on a precious child of God who was either going to be living with us in a warm, stable family near to all she had known all her life. The alternative was with strangers in foster families and brokenness, abandoned by us.

That was six years ago. It was tough initially as we were nurturing a broken soul, but now, looking back I would not have swapped it for the world. God is good.

Because God is dad!



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