19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you.” 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”Luke 8:19-21, ESV
Luke’s narrative contains several stories that overlap with the other three gospels. Contrary to the skeptics’ opinion, these overlapping stories are not contradictory but rather complementary. The Christian reader can find so much encouragement and blessing from reading the overlapping accounts together. This passage in Luke 8:19-21 is an excellent example because you may find the overlapping narratives in Matthew 12:46-50 and Mark 3:31-35. If you take the time to read and compare all three records of this relevant passage, you will notice that Luke did not write this narrative in the same sequential order. Matthew and Mark both tell us that this story of Jesus’ mother and brothers came to find Him on the heals of the Pharisee’s accusation of Jesus being the minister of Satan. However, Luke does not record that foul interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees until chapter 11. Upon reading this seeming contradiction, the skeptic thinks he has won the day. Even well-intentioned Bible readers can find themselves flabbergasted when they discover this seeming contradiction. Why am I referring to this as a seeming contradiction? Because there is certainly no contradiction. The problem arises because so many have begun reading the four Gospels with a false assumption. The false presupposition that the gospel writers were attempting to record a historically accurate timeline of the life and works of Jesus will cause many readers to imagine a contradiction in this passage and others like it.
The reality is that the four Gospels were not written as historical biographies. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all written as theological works of evangelism. The narratives are naturally historical, but the order of each event is not necessarily chronologically accurate. Is this a problem? Not at all. We might imagine ourselves to have been better served with an iron-clad chronology. Still, the truth is that the Apostles recorded the events accurately but placed each event in an appropriate place as they wrote their theological argument for who Jesus is and what He accomplished. Simply put, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each wrote their Gospel narratives with the aim of evangelism.
The usefulness of this understanding is that we may cross-examine each overlapping narrative to see a fuller picture. Because each evangelist may give us a detail or two of a scene that the others don’t, we can see the same scene unfolding from slightly different angles. Are you a football fan? If you are, you have most certainly watched a goal-line stand that you believed wholeheartedly that your favorite team scored. Still, when the referee’s examined the play from every available camera angle, they saw the play more clearly and overturned the call. As disheartening as that was, the truth prevailed. Having multiple angles provided to us by the four Apostolic accounts enables us as readers to compare and see the whole picture more entirely so that the truth might prevail in our hearts and minds.
The passage before us in Luke 8 can seem to be harsh. We have here three sentences about Jesus’ mother, Mary, and his brothers who are hindered from coming to see Jesus because of the crowd size. If that was all the information we had, what would we suppose Jesus’ reaction might be? Upon hearing his family wants to speak to Him, Jesus says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” Doesn’t that seem a little strange? Why didn’t Jesus tell the crowd to make way and let His mother and brother through at once?
When we read the overlapping accounts in Matthew 12 and Mark 3 to help us have a better perspective, we will learn that Jesus’ natural family had come to bring Him home and ask Him to leave His work behind for the moment. The controversy that was beginning to surround Jesus’ ministry was boiling over and becoming dangerous in their minds. Mark 3:21 says, “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, He is out of his mind.” As Mark progresses in the narrative, he eventually records the same interaction observed in Luke 8. Mark gives us the detail that helps our perspective as we wonder why Jesus isn’t inviting His mother and brothers into His inner circle. Jesus was unwilling to submit to his immediate family’s intention and pronounced his true family to be those who hear and obey God’s word.
The theme that Luke is highlighting in the eighth chapter is hearing God’s word and obeying or believing. Jesus keeps beating that drum of hearing and obeying, and Luke uses this particular story of Jesus’ family to contrast belief and unbelief. Who is Jesus’ real family? He plainly says His family is comprised of all who hear and obey God’s Word. The significance of being part of Jesus’ family is because Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God. Whoever is part of Jesus’ family is by extension in the family of God. We become sons and daughters of God through our relationship with Christ. Therefore, Jesus is contrasting his natural family, who is not currently hearing and obeying God’s Word, with His real family, who are all believers.
Jesus’ mother was a believer. Please re-read Luke 1-2 for helpful context. Jesus’ brothers however did not believe Jesus was the Christ until after the resurrection. Please read Mark 3,1 Cor 15, James, and Jude for helpful context.