In the previous note, I discussed the two episodes in Mark 3:20-21 and 31-35, in which Jesus’ natural family and relatives are contrasted with the true family of his faithful disciples. I mentioned how Matthew and Luke do not contain anything corresponding to the first episode, but each has a version of the second—in Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 8:19-21, respectively.
Matthew’s version has a very different setting. Not only is the scene from Mk 3:20-21 absent, but the “Beelzebul controversy” episode (12:22-32) is kept separate from the scene contrasting Jesus’ natural and true family (12:46-50). This is the result of the ‘insertion’ of three sections of teaching (vv. 33-37, 38-42, 43-45) in between. The last two sections are part of the so-called “Q” material, found also in Luke, in a slightly different location and order (Lk 11:29-32, 24-26). Overall, the inclusion of vv. 22-45 makes the section function as a condemnation of the faithlessness and wickedness of the Age—including the cities and towns (of Galilee) in which Jesus has been preaching and working miracles. This narrative block begins with verses 15-21, and the Scripture citation of Isaiah 42:1-4 (vv. 18-21), which holds a similar place in Matthew’s narrative as does the citation of Isa 61:1 in Luke 4:17-21. Many people have not responded as they should to God’s Chosen One, who has been marked (and anointed) by the Spirit. It is by the Spirit of God that Jesus works miracles and casts out demons (12:28). This emphasis in v. 28 is one of the Matthean additions (Q material, cf. Lk 11:20) to the core Synoptic tradition, along with verses 22-23 and 30. They also give the section a stronger eschatological orientation—i.e., Jesus’ miracles are a sign that the Kingdom of God has come.
We can see how these additions, along with their distinctive emphasis, has modified the sense of the episode in verses 46-50 as well. There is the same contrast as in Mark—Jesus’ natural family vs. his true/spiritual family—but it yields a different implication in the Matthean context. The idea seems to be that not even Jesus’ own (natural) family will escape the Judgment, on the basis of their family ties; rather, only those who follow him faithfully (to the end) will be saved. There is an echo of this teaching (with a similar contrast) earlier in 10:34-39, and it is almost certainly implied in vv. 46-50 as well. Matthew’s version of the scene is presented in a more public, dramatic fashion; note some key differences (compared with Mark’s version):
- Jesus is speaking to the crowd (v. 46a); this serves to join the narrative to the ‘inserted’ blocks of teaching in vv. 33-45.
- It is narrated specifically that Jesus’ mother and brothers were seeking him out to speak with him (v. 46b).
- The double use of the pronoun ti$ (“who”) in Jesus’ rhetorical question (v. 48) gives it a more solemn, formal sound.
- Jesus delivers an emphatic gesture—stretching out his hand to those around him (v. 49, Mk has “looking around”). The gesture is also directed specifically toward his disciples.
- In the final declaration (v. 50) Jesus uses “My Father (in the heavens)” instead of “God”; this gives added emphasis to the family aspect of the scene (cp. Lk 2:48-49).
The Lukan narrative context is different again. Not only is the scene of Mk 3:20-21 absent, but the “Beelzebul controversy” episode has been set in an entirely different location, at a later point in the narrative (Lk 11:14-23). As in Matthew, this episode is connected with the teaching on the “return of the unclean spirit” (vv. 24-26; Matt 12:43-45) and the “sign of Jonah” (vv. 29-32; Matt 12:38-42), and may reflect a traditional ordering of the “Q” material used by both Gospels. In any event, the Beelzebul scene, with its hostility toward Jesus’ ministry, has been removed completely from the context of 8:19-21. Another major change is that the parable of the Sower has been placed ahead of the scene in 8:19-21, contrary to the (Synoptic order) of Mark/Matthew. Luke has also added the important narrative summary in 8:1-3. Let us see how these changes have altered the outline of the narrative (in relation to vv. 19-21):
- 8:1-3—Summary of the ministry work of Jesus (preaching the Good News and working healing miracles), and of the close disciples (the Twelve and others) who are following him. Luke uses the very language of Mk 3:14 (the calling of the Twelve), stating that these disciples were with him (met’ au)tou=).
- 8:4-15—The Parable of the Sower, including the traditional elements:
—vv. 4-8: The parable itself
—vv. 9-10: The statement that the “secrets of the Kingdom” are only given to his (close) disciples
—vv. 11-5: An explanation of the parable
- 8:16-18—The Parable/illustration of the Lamp, with the two-fold (eschatological) warning in vv. 17-18
- 8:19-21—The Scene/Saying regarding Jesus’ mother and brothers
Very little remains of the stark contrast presented in Mk 3:20-35; instead, the emphasis is primarily on the disciples of Jesus, their faithfulness to him, and the reward that will result from it. Several small, but significant, changes to the episode in 8:19-21 follow this general theme:
- In verse 19, Jesus’ mother and brothers themselves desire to come to Jesus and meet with him (using the vb. suntugxa/nw). They are physically unable to reach him “through the crowd”.
- Luke retains the image of Jesus’ mother and brothers “standing outside”, but their purpose is not merely to “speak” to Jesus, but to meet/be together with him (v. 19) and to see him (v. 20). The motif of seeing Christ is important in the Gospel of Luke (2:26, 30; 3:6, etc), as also in the Gospel of John, and frequently has theological/Christological significance.
- The formulation of Jesus’ declaration (v. 21) is different. In Mark/Matthew, Jesus looks/motions to his disciples, and says regarding them:
“See, (here are) my mother and my brothers!” (Mk 3:34).
The saying in v. 35 follows:
“[For] whoever would do the will of God—this (one) is my brother and sister and mother“
Luke’s version of the climactic declaration, on the other hand, has largely removed (or has avoided) the basic contrast between Jesus’ natural and true/spiritual family, through a simple modification/abridgment of the saying:
“My mother and my brothers—these are the ones hearing and doing the account [i.e. word] of God”
This allows one to understand the saying to include Jesus’ mother and brothers as being among the faithful ones. We will see how this relates to the overall portrait of Jesus’ mother (Mary) and brothers in Luke-Acts in an upcoming note.
As it happens, there is a parallel saying of Jesus in Luke which preserves a bit more of the original contrast found in Mk 3:20-35 par. In Luke 11:27-28, a simple tradition is recorded, in which a woman utters a blessing (macarism) to Jesus (v. 27):
“Happy the belly [i.e. womb] carrying you and the nipples that you (have) sucked!”
Jesus responds with a blessing of his own (v. 28):
“(Indeed) but then (all the more) happy (are) the (one)s hearing the account [i.e. word] of God and guarding (it)!”
The woman’s blessing refers to Jesus’ mother in a concrete physical/biological sense. While Jesus does not exactly reject this statement, he certainly downplays its significance and redirects it. This is done with the compound particle menou=n(ge), which is rather difficult to render in English; it probably should be understood as something like “yes, but then all the more…” or “indeed, but now, truly…” Natural family ties mean relatively little compared with faithfulness to God (and Jesus). It is possible that the expression “the account [i.e. word, lo/go$] of God” from this saying, along with the specific idea of hearing the word of God, has been used to modify the (Lukan) form of the earlier, parallel saying in 8:21. A version of the saying in 11:27-28 has also been preserved in the “Gospel of Thomas” (§79), which likely is derived from Luke (along with 23:29).
Before proceeding to the episode at Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6a par), it is necessary to examine one rare passage in the Gospel of John which seems to have some relationship to the Synoptic traditions in Mk 3:20-21 and 31-35 par. This will be discussed in the next note.