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The words and actions of Jesus teach us much about how we should relate to others. Anyone interested in making their relationships with others stronger will benefit from Relating to Others as Jesus Would.
A Guided Discovery of the Bible The Bible invites us to explore God’s word and reflect on how we might respond to it. To do this, we need guidance and the right tools for discovery. The Six Weeks with the Bible series of Bible discussion guides offers both in a concise six-week...
The words and actions of Jesus teach us much about how we should relate to others. Anyone interested in making their relationships with others stronger will benefit from Relating to Others as Jesus Would.
A Guided Discovery of the Bible The Bible invites us to explore God’s word and reflect on how we might respond to it. To do this, we need guidance and the right tools for discovery. The Six Weeks with the Bible series of Bible discussion guides offers both in a concise six-week format. Whether focusing on a specific biblical book or exploring a theme that runs throughout the Bible, these practical guides in this series provide meaningful insights that explain Scripture while helping readers make connections to their own lives. Each guide
• is faithful to Church teaching and is guided by sound biblical scholarship
• presents the insights of Church fathers and saints
• includes questions for discussion and reflection
• delivers information in a reader-friendly format
• gives suggestions for prayer that help readers respond to God’s word
• appeals to beginners as well as to advanced students of the Bible
By reading Scripture, reflecting on its deeper meanings, and incorporating it into our daily life, we can grow not only in our understanding of God’s word, but also in our relationship with God.
How to Use This Guide
If you want to know about Jesus, the natural place to begin is the Gospels. In the Gospels we can discover Jesus for the first time—or rediscover him for the thousandth time.
In this book we will read some excerpts from the Gospels in order to examine how Jesus related to the people in his life. As we proceed, we will explore connections between what we find in Scripture and our own life. The goal is to become more like Jesus.
Our approach will be a guided discovery. It will be guided because we all need support in understanding Scripture and reflecting on what it means for our lives. Scripture was written to be understood and applied in the community of faith, so we read the Bible for ourselves but not by ourselves. Even if we are reading alone rather than in a group, we need resources that help us grow in understanding. Our approach is also one of discovery, because each of us needs to encounter Scripture for ourselves and consider its meaning for our life. No one can do this for us.
This book is designed to give you both guidance for understanding and tools for discovery.
The introduction on page 6 will guide your reading by providing background material and helping you get oriented to the subject of our exploration. Each week, a brief “Background” section will give you context for the reading, and the “Exploring the Theme” section that follows the reading will bring out the meaning of the Scripture passages. Supplementary material between sessions will offer further resources for understanding.
The main tool for discovery is the “Questions for Reflection and Discussion” section in each session. The first questions in this section are designed to spur you to notice things in the text, sharpen your powers of observation, and read for comprehension. Other questions suggest ways to compare the people, situations, and experiences in the biblical texts with your own life and the world today—an important step toward grasping what God is saying to you through the Scripture and what your response might be. Choose the questions you think will work best for you. Preparing to answer all of the questions ahead of time is highly recommended.
We suggest that you pay particular attention to the final question each week, labeled “Focus question.” This question points to an especially important issue raised by the reading. You may find it difficult to answer this focus question briefly. Do leave enough time for everyone in the group to discuss it!
Other sections encourage you to take an active approach to your Bible reading and discussion. At the start of each session, the “Questions to Begin” will help you break the ice and start talk flowing. Often these questions are light and have only a slight connection to the reading. After each Scripture reading, there is a suggested time for a “First Impression.” This gives you a chance to express a brief, initial, personal response to the text. Each session ends with a “Prayer to Close” that suggests a way of expressing your response to God.
How long are the discussion sessions? We’ve assumed you will have about an hour and twenty minutes. If you have less time, you’ll find that most of the elements can be shortened somewhat.
Is homework necessary? You will get the most out of your discussions if you read the weekly material and prepare your answers to the questions in advance of each meeting. If participants are not able to prepare, read the “Exploring the Theme” sections aloud at the points where they appear.
What about leadership? You don’t have to be an expert in the Bible to lead a discussion. Choose one or two people to act as discussion facilitators, and have everyone in the group read “Suggestions for Bible Discussion Groups” (page 90) before beginning.
Does everyone need a guide? a Bible? Everyone in the group will need their own copy of this book. It contains the biblical texts, so a Bible is not absolutely necessary—but each person will find it useful to have one. You should have at least one Bible on hand for your discussions. (See page 94 for recommendations.)
Before you begin, take a look at the suggestions for Bible discussion groups (page 90) or individuals (page 93).
The Importance of Asking the Right Question
Detroit being the Motor City, some Christians called a press conference in Detroit to launch a media campaign called “What Would Jesus Drive?” They wanted to spur people to reflect on their auto-buying habits in light of the gospel. The organizers of the campaign seemed to promote the idea that the Lord would choose something modestly priced and fuel efficient rather than an expensive, gas-guzzling SUV. This struck me as being rather unlikely. Obviously, if Jesus were in the market for a new vehicle, he would be looking at pickup trucks. How else would a carpenter get his tools and supplies out to the construction site?
Seriously, I’m sure the “What Would Jesus Drive?” folks had good intentions. But their campaign demonstrates the limitations of the What would Jesus do? type of question. Granted, the question is thought provoking. But the answers can range only from speculative to silly. Sometimes the question simply provides an opportunity to communicate a preconceived view. If you dislike SUVs, you picture Jesus driving an Escort.
Jesus calls us to imitate him. This is at the heart of being his followers. But if we wonder what it means to live out his approach to life in our own situations, we usually cannot make much progress simply by asking What would Jesus do?
One reason for this difficulty is that Jesus dealt with situations quite different from ours. Indeed, the whole world in which he lived was different from ours. He was born long, long before the first SUV pulled up to a gas pump, before jets crisscrossed the skies or trains rolled down tracks, before television, or even printing, before effective medical care. In Jesus’ day, peasants plowed fields with oxen, and sailing ships plied the seas. Thus the choices that the people of his time faced were different from those we confront. From observing how Jesus lived in his first-century world, it is not easy to determine what he would do if he were suddenly transported into modern life. We know that he went outside of Capernaum to pray one morning (Mark 1:35), but this does not give us a clue as to whether he would use his morning commute to pray in his car or listen to music. When he visited Capernaum, Jesus stayed at Peter’s house (Mark 1:29–34); this tells us nothing about whether he would stay in a Motel 6 or a Hilton if he visited Cincinnati.
Another factor that sets a distance between Jesus’ life and ours is the difference between his calling and ours. Jesus was called to remain single; most of us are called to marry. He had to leave home to fulfill his mission; most of us establish a home and stay in it. He did not have children of his own; for many of us, raising our children is our great life’s work. On a typical day, Jesus cured crowds of sick people. Most of us spend our time in more ordinary activities: earning a living, shopping, hurrying from one activity to another, doing a thousand and one things to keep life together. It is hard to say what Jesus would do if he were suddenly placed in the midst of our activities.
The apostle Paul seems to have already sensed this issue a mere twenty or thirty years after Jesus’ resurrection. When he exhorts his fellow Christians to imitate Jesus, he mentions few specifics of Jesus’ life. Paul keeps his call to imitate Jesus on a general level. He summons Christians to imitate the overall pattern of Jesus’ life—his humble entry into the world as a human being and his supreme service of laying down his life for us (Philippians 2:1–8).
The question What would Jesus do? is not only hard to answer. In some sense, it is the wrong question. In Jesus, God took flesh as a particular individual human being. He was the Son of Mary, he was Jewish, he lived in Nazareth, he spoke Aramaic, he died in Jerusalem. God’s plan is not to have Jesus, the first-century Palestinian Jew, step into the billions of situations that develop through human history. His plan is for us, who find ourselves in these varied situations, to live in the Spirit of his Son, to follow his principles for living, to shape our lives according to his values, to share his love with the people around us. The question for each of us is not What would Jesus do? but What does Jesus want me to do? How can each of us, as the particular man or woman we are, be his follower in our situation? Imitating Jesus involves something more complex than simply asking What would Jesus do? It begins with getting to know Jesus and the life he lived, and then translating what we have seen in him into our own lives, according to God’s unique call to each of us.
The Gospels provide us with material we need for this process of observation and translation. As one reads the Gospels chapter by chapter, one discovers a very human Jesus—
a person in whom his divinity did not replace his humanity in any way. Like every other human being, he was born and grew up. He had a human mind and will. He experienced human pleasures and pressures; he felt human desires, frustrations, and pain. He had a family, he made friends; he loved them and ran into problems with them. Certainly, Jesus lived in a world very different from ours in terms of economy, culture, politics, and religion. Certainly, as the Son of God and Redeemer of the world, he had a unique task in the world, as well as unique power to accomplish it. Still, Jesus fully shared our human nature. As a human being, Jesus is essentially no farther from us than any other human person. The world has changed in twenty centuries, but not human nature.
The Gospels give us access to the human-as-well-as-divine Jesus. They communicate not only his teaching; they narrate more than his death and resurrection. The Gospels consist mostly of short, crisp accounts of episodes in Jesus’ public life and in his relationship with his disciples. Thus the Gospels enable us to share the opportunity that Jesus granted to his first disciples—the opportunity to be with him, to observe him and listen to him, to see how he related to people, to learn what it means to be his followers.
In fact, the Gospels are designed to facilitate our interaction with Jesus. They are like video games in which the player steps into a story and interacts with the characters within it. The Gospels invite us not only to observe Jesus but also to step inside his situations and speak with him and listen to him as he speaks to us. In this process, we become acquainted with him as a person. His presence has an impact on our hearts and minds. Through this, we gradually come to see what it means to imitate him, to follow his approach to life, in our circumstances.
This book is an aid to taking advantage of this opportunity. Our particular focus will be to look at how Jesus related to the people in his life. Our aim will be to grow in treating the people in our lives as he would wish us to.
In order to explore the topic, I chose some of the types of people with whom Jesus interacted—the members of his family, those who sought to learn from him, those who opposed him, and others. Then I selected episodes that illustrate his way of relating to each group.
Each week, our format will be the same. In each session you will find three or four excerpts from the Gospels, with a few words of introduction labeled “The Background.” After the readings, in “Exploring the Theme,” I will offer some help for understanding what is going on in the Gospel episodes, followed by some general reflections on what the accounts show us about Jesus’ way of relating to people. At this point, it will be up to you to pick up the ball and run with it. What strikes you about the way Jesus relates to people? What picture of Jesus do you form from these accounts? What can you learn from him that is relevant for relating to people in your life? Each week, the “Questions for Reflection and Discussion” will help you pursue these questions.
Writing this book has been an experience of discovery for me. As I picked out passages from the Gospels, I wondered what I would find out about Jesus’ way of dealing with people. As I studied the selections, I was impressed anew with some things I already knew about Jesus. But I also noticed some things for the first time. I hope that, as you read these Gospel passages, you will have the same experience of discovery. Learning about Jesus is an exciting process, even though it involves some hard thinking about how to translate what we see in his life into our lives.
It will be helpful, before we begin, to consider some limitations we will face in our exploration. One limitation is built into the Gospels. Quite simply, there is a lot of Jesus’ life that the Gospels do not include. Almost everything in his life before he began his public ministry remains out of sight. The people of Nazareth knew Jesus as the village carpenter. But in the Gospels we never see him working at his trade. Living in a small village, with what may have been a large extended family, Jesus must have been deeply intertwined with relatives and neighbors. But there are no Gospel accounts of Jesus while he was living at home with Mary and Joseph, no stories in which we see him picking olives with his cousins and neighbors, chatting about the weather, visiting a sick neighbor, or listening to his grandparents. It would be interesting to have access to such details, both in order to flesh out our picture of Jesus and to have more material to work with when we try to understand how to imitate him in our family and work lives. But that is not what the Gospel writers have given us.
The Gospels focus on Jesus after he began his public ministry. But even in this period of his life, most of the ordinary moments go unrecorded. Undoubtedly, much of his life was mundane and unremarkable, even after he began his preaching. Presumably, like us, Jesus had downtime when he was too tired to do more than just stare blankly into space (he was exhausted enough to sleep through a life-threatening storm at sea—Mark 4:35–38). No doubt he had to buy new sandals from time to time and get his clothing laundered. Personally, I would like to know how Jesus reacted when people wanted to talk about things that bored him, how he bargained in the bazaar, what kinds of jokes he liked—and told (I do think Jesus had a sense of humor—John 6:5, for example). But, again, the Gospel writers have not informed us.
The Gospel writers’ selectivity has given us a portrait that is true, but also partial. By depicting Jesus mainly doing important things, like preaching about the kingdom of God and training his disciples, the authors have created a portrait of him as a serious, even grave, person. We should certainly accept this portrait as true to life. We may, however, suspect that Jesus also had a lighter side. Did he ever ask Levi what he had liked about tax collecting? Did he chat with Andrew about the best places on the lake for fishing? Did he discuss the ups and downs of the fish-drying business with Mary Magdalene (supposing that those scholars are correct who think that was the business in which she made her money)? It seems to me that Jesus must have gotten into ordinary conversations, out of a natural interest in people.
These are just my supposings. But I offer them to spur you to do your own thinking about Jesus. The Gospels are bare-bones accounts; we, the readers, need to flesh them out. As you read the selections from the Gospels over the next few weeks, use your imagination to fill in the sparse picture that the Gospel writers have provided. Create in your mind your own living portrait of Jesus. The more he lives in your mind as a real person, the deeper his influence on you will be.
This book, too, has its limitations. In order to accommodate several Gospel passages in each session, it has been necessary sometimes to read only the parts of incidents that are of particular concern for our investigation. To gain a deeper understanding, you may sometimes wish to pull out your Bible and read the material before and after each excerpt.
Similarly, we will not be able to explore all the layers of meaning in the selections that we read. The Gospels are rich in meaning because Jesus is rich in meaning. The most we can do in a short guide such as this is to begin to consider what these passages mean. Hopefully you will go on to read them again and to learn more about them.
For each session’s selection of Gospel readings there were more candidates than could be included. For example, in Week 1 we will read about Mary’s first appearance in the Gospel of John, at Cana, but we will not read about her appearance later in John’s Gospel, at Jesus’ cross. Feel free to look for additional passages that would illustrate each week’s theme and add them to your reflections.
Despite these limitations, we can be confident that our readings will lead us closer to Jesus. The risen Lord invites us to know him and learn from him. As we ponder how he treated the people in his life, his Spirit will guide us, bringing the stories to life for us and giving us wisdom to see what Jesus’ example means for our lives. As we explore how Jesus treated the people in his life, he will help us see how he would like us to treat the people in ours.
Jesus’ Way of Relating to His Family
Questions to Begin
10 minutes Use a question or two to get warmed up for the reading.
1 When you were a child, did you ever get lost? As a parent, have you ever had a child get lost?
2 Do you to prefer to travel alone or with other people? Who do you like to travel with?
What can I do to participate well in the discussion? . . . Stick to the point.
Elizabeth W. Flynn and John F. La Faso, Group Discussion as Learning Process: A Sourcebook
Opening the Bible
10 minutes Read the passage aloud. Let individuals take turns reading paragraphs.
We begin our exploration close to home, with Gospel readings that illustrate Jesus’ relationships with members of his family. While this is a natural starting point for our exploration, it is also in some ways the most difficult. This is partly because the Gospels show us virtually nothing of Jesus’ family life in Nazareth before he began his public life and also because, during his public life, Jesus often had to distance himself from his family in order to pursue the mission God had given him. Nevertheless, Jesus’ values and character come into very clear focus in his interactions with his family members—offering us much food for thought about our relationships with our own families and, indeed, with all the people in our lives.
The Reading: Luke 2:41–52; John 2:1–12; 7:1–10; Mark 3:19–35
A Confrontation with His Parents
Luke 2:41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
A Conversation with His Mother
John 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.
9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.
A Disagreement with His Brothers
John 7:1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. . . . 2 Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; 4 for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 (For not even his brothers believed in him.)
6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil. 8 Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee.
10 But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were in secret.
A Challenge to Everyone in His Family
Mark 3:19 . . . Then he went home; 20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
5 minutes Briefly mention a question you have about the reading or one thing in it that surprised, impressed, delighted, or challenged you. No discussion! Just listen to one another’s reactions.
Exploring the Theme
If participants have not read this section already, read it aloud. Otherwise go on to “Questions for Reflection and Discussion.”
Luke 2:41–52. Mary and Joseph set out on the trek from Jerusalem to Nazareth with family members, friends, and neighbors. Perhaps the caravan is large, and Mary and Joseph are busy socializing. In any case, they do not notice that Jesus is not with the group until they stop to camp for the night. What can have happened to him? The next day they hurriedly return to Jerusalem. The following day they find him in the temple. Luke tells us they are “astonished.” Apparently Jesus is normally a compliant and responsible boy who does not give his parents a hard time. “Child, why have you treated us like this?” Mary asks. “Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (2:48).
Yet Jesus does not apologize. In fact, he reproaches Mary and Joseph in public for not knowing his whereabouts! The Greek text of verse 50 contains a hint that he had told them before they left town but they had not grasped his meaning. Nevertheless, he tells them, even if they do not understand—even if it makes them anxious—he must be in his Father’s house, doing his Father’s business (2:49). Jesus’ reference to his Father expresses his deep awareness of his identity and mission: he is the Son of God, he has come to carry out his Father’s will—and only his Father’s will. This point is so important that he is willing to trouble and embarrass his parents in order to help them grasp it.
Having made his point, Jesus is again submissive to Joseph and Mary (2:51). The submission of the Son of God as an ordinary teenager to human parents is quite remarkable. But putting his Father’s will first does not make Jesus a rebel without a cause.
John 2:1–12. In first-century Galilee, wedding festivities last seven days. Guests are expected to bring supplies for the lengthy celebration, which may account for Mary’s bringing the wine problem to Jesus’ attention. “We helped to drink up the wine. Shouldn’t we do something to replenish it?”
Jesus, however, is somewhat aloof. “Woman” is a polite form of address but an odd way for a son to address his mother. Jesus’ question—“what concern is that to you and to me?”—is a way of saying, “That’s your business. How am I involved?” By saying that his “hour” (2:4—his death and resurrection) has not yet come, Jesus reminds his mother that he must act in accord with his Father’s plans—plans that he alone fully understands. Mary’s direction to the servants (2:5), then, is an act of faith in Jesus in the absence of complete understanding, which makes her a good model for us. Yet, as St. Francis de Sales points out, Mary’s instruction to the servants indicates that she is mysteriously in tune with her son, since she knows he is going to tell the servants to do something.
Jesus’ miracle signifies that God’s dealings with the people of Israel (symbolized by the water jars used for ritual washings under the Mosaic law) have been a preparation for the coming of the Son, whose arrival can now be celebrated (symbolized by the wine). Jesus has granted his mother’s unspoken request, but only after making it clear that he owes a son’s obedience to one person alone—his heavenly Father.
John 7:1–10. Jesus’ “brothers” (see essay, page 84) believe in him in the sense of recognizing that he can do marvelous things. But they do not really believe in him: they do not grasp what his miracles signify—that he is God’s life-giving Son. To his brothers, Jesus seems to be just an ordinary family member who has unaccountably developed extraordinary powers.
The brothers expect a spiritually gifted person like Jesus to use his powers to impress people and gain honor for himself and his family. So they urge him to go to the big city and show off (7:3–4). Jesus refuses the suggestion on the basis of God’s plan (7:6). And he rebukes his brothers by telling them, “You don’t have to ask God about his timing because you do whatever you want. So any time seems good to you.” After a delay, Jesus does go to Jerusalem (7:10), but not for the reason his brothers propose. On this trip, he will perform no miracles.
Mark 3:19–35. Jesus’ “home” here is not the family residence in Nazareth. Probably he is staying in Capernaum (see Mark 1:21, 29). Members of his family have heard rumors that he has gone insane. Apparently they give credence to the rumors, for they come to “restrain” him (the Greek word means “seize” or “arrest,” which is how it is used in Mark 14:46). Presumably they want to take charge of him for his own good and to preserve the family’s good name. (Did his mother also? Again, see page 84.) The religious authorities accuse Jesus of demonic possession—a diagnosis that overlaps with insanity in ancient thinking (see John 10:20).
The episode ends with a picture of insiders and outsiders (3:31–35). Inside the house are Jesus’ disciples, receiving his teaching about God and experiencing his power to overcome evil and forgive sins. Outside are those who do not believe in him. The outsiders can become insiders by believing. If they believe, they will enjoy a closeness to him as intimate as that between sister and brother and between mother and child. But those who belong to Jesus’ natural family are not necessarily close to him. Unless they believe in him, they will remain outside.
Reflections. Jesus’ calling in life did not involve marriage, so obviously we do not find Gospel incidents in which he is surrounded by a family of his own. But we know that he was deeply committed to family life: he opposed divorce, he liked children, he insisted on adults caring for their elderly parents, (Mark 10:1–16; 7:9–13). So we might expect to see him tightening the bonds between himself and his family members. Instead, we repeatedly see him drawing a line between himself and his family. In one situation after another, he lets them feel as though they have bumped up against an invisible barrier between themselves and him. Why is this?
Family relationships were very strong in first-century Palestine. A person tended to think of himself or herself not as an independent individual but as part of a family. Consequently, people were deeply influenced by their family’s expectations for them. To the extent that Jesus’ family members did not grasp his identity and wished him to act in ways not in keeping with his mission, these close family bonds would have been a problem for him. The numerous incidents in the Gospels where we see Jesus distancing himself from his family suggest that he felt it necessary to make clear to his family that he would not let his ties with them hold him back from doing exactly what his Father wanted him to do.
Undoubtedly, Jesus was confrontational with his family for their good. His brothers needed sharp words to jolt them into realizing who he was (eventually some of them became his followers—see page 89). Perhaps also Jesus was confrontational with his family because he found it necessary for himself. As a first-century Palestinian Jew who loved his family deeply, he must have felt the pull of their expectations. Perhaps his brothers’ suggestion to win renown through his miracles appealed to him. Their proposal was similar to the suggestion of the devil in the desert, which seems to have been a genuine temptation for him (Matthew 4:5–7; Luke 4:9–12). Jesus’ sharp words to his brothers may have been a way of being stern with himself, reaffirming his rejection of values and goals that did not come from his Father.
Our readings show Jesus repeatedly expressing his determination to put obedience to God before even his closest personal relationships. The divergence between his mission and his family’s expectations would have become most apparent during the period of his ministry. During his earlier years, however, obedience to his Father would have been expressed mainly through obedience to his earthly parents. Presumably, also, he showed his love for God by being a loyal and caring grandson, nephew, cousin. We catch only a glimpse of this period of his life in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 2:51–52). Yet for most of us, this at-home aspect of Jesus’ relationship with his family is the part that would have been most like our own. We might wish the Gospel writers had shown us a little more of it!
In any case, the Gospels show us Jesus applying to his family relationships the fundamental principle that he calls us to apply to our own: putting God’s will ahead of every other consideration. Occasionally this may require us to part ways with our families in some respect. More often, it means just the opposite. Putting God’s will first usually means staying close to our families, serving them with kindness and determination, no matter how great the difficulties.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
45 minutes Choose questions according to your interest and time.
1 Jesus’ words in Luke 2:49 can be translated as meaning either that he must be in his Father’s house or about his Father’s business. How different are these two possible meanings?
2 Judging from Mary’s astonishment and reproach of Jesus (Luke 2:48), he must normally have been a cooperative and thoughtful boy. So, when Mary and Joseph discovered his absence from the caravan (Luke 2:44), what explanation might have occurred to them?
3 Jesus rejects his brothers’ encouragement to exhibit his remarkable powers in Jerusalem (John 7:3–4). Since Jesus had “revealed his glory” at Cana by using his miraculous powers (John 2:11), what was wrong with his brothers’ advice?
4 How common is it for a person to be misunderstood even by close family members? What causes such misunderstandings? What can be done to overcome misunderstandings in the family? What can be learned from Jesus’ way of handling his relationships with family members who do not understand him?
5 Jesus deals with misunderstandings and disagreements directly, even bluntly. How useful is this in family relation- ships? Is it always the best approach?
6 For personal reflection: Jesus puts obedience to God at the center of his relationships with members of his family. If you gave higher priority to God’s will, how might you change the way you relate to someone in your family? How might you do something different from what your family expects?
7 Focus question: In what ways do family expectations today help people see and do what God is calling them to? In what ways can family expectations be an obstacle? What can be done to build a family life that encourages all the family members to seek God’s will for their lives?
Prayer to Close
10 minutes Use this approach—or create your own!
Pray this prayer together. Pause for silent reflection. End with an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be.
Lord Jesus, you made obedience to your Father the rock on which you built your relationships with everyone in your family. Help me do the same in my family. Enable me to love with your love. Give me wisdom for dealing with misunderstanding and conflict. Bless every member of my family with a deep knowledge of you.
4 How to Use This Guide
6 The Importance of Asking the Right Question
12 Week 1
Jesus’ Way of Relating to His Family
Selections from Luke 2; John 2; 7; Mark 3
24 Week 2
. . . to Seekers
Selections from John 2–3; Luke 7; Mark 10; 12
36 Week 3
. . . to Those Known as Sinners
Selections from Luke 5; 7; John 8; Luke 23
48 Week 4
. . . to People He Met along the Way
Selections from Luke 12; Mark 10; Luke 19; 23
60 Week 5
. . . to Those Who Rejected Him
Selections from Luke 9; 11; Mark 11; John 18–19; Luke 23
72 Week 6
. . . to His Friends
Selections from Luke 10; John 11;12
84 A Closer Look at Jesus’ Family
90 Suggestions for Bible Discussion Groups
93 Suggestions for Individuals