Thursday

10 October 2019

Matthew 12:46-50

‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ (v. 48)

Psalm: Psalm 73:15-28

Background

This can be a hard story to read about Jesus. His family have come to find him and want to speak to him. They wait outside and send someone with a message. And Jesus sends back an apparently harsh reply that seems to reject his closest blood relatives, and his relationship to them, in favour of those who are following him and listening to him.

Some background to this story can add a bit of nuance to what looks like very hurtful behaviour on the part of Jesus towards his closest kin.

The ties of blood and kinship could function like a strait jacket in the ancient Near East, binding those related by blood into a tightly defined grouping whose interests, honour and concerns were to be regarded as paramount by the members of immediate and extended families. Belonging within a family provided you with your identity and sense of belonging, as well as your place and status in wider society. Everyone knew their place in the tightly structured, first-century household with its limits and boundaries around gender-roles and hierarchy, around who was at the centre and who at the margins, around who did and did not belong.

At the centre of Jesus’ mission is the proclamation of a kingdom which offers a new description of kinship, community and belonging. Jesus encourages children and women towards the kingdom of heaven, including unmarried and non-childbearing women. And he makes some surprising statements about who is at the centre, and who is marginal; who will be last and first, in the kingdom.

So a story in which Jesus pushes back against a claim of kinship for priority regarding getting his attention is maybe a different way of telling this story of a community where status and identity and belonging are defined by the grace and welcome of God, challenging fixed social and cultural notions of who is in and who’s out, who matters most, and who gets Jesus’ attention.

 

To Ponder:

  • How might someone’s personal experience of family affect how they read this story?
  • What assumptions about status or belonging in today’s culture need to be challenged by the message of the kingdom?

Bible notes author

The Revd Carole Irwin

Carole is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has served in circuits in Folkestone and Bradford, and is currently Director of Studies at Wesley House, Cambridge.

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