This pericope forms part of a larger text that begins at verse 4 and ends at verse 21. It plays on the motif of hearing the word of God. Hearing or listening becomes the leitmotif and the challenge to every disciple. Hearing the Word of God is the hallmark of Lucan discipleship. The disciples are not only hearers of the parables of God’s kingdom as in verses 4-8 but are also recipients of the singular grace of knowing what God’s kingdom means for everyday Christian living (JBC)
In verse 18 Jesus cautions the disciples to ‘pay attention how they listen’. Hearing without understanding the word, leads to a total loss of hearing. It produces no fruit in the disciple. To reiterate this point Luke uses the word hearing or listening five times between verse 8-19.
It is in this context of hearing and listening that the mother and the brothers of Jesus are introduced to the narrative. We are told they are unable to reach him because of the crowd and to the person who informs Jesus that his own relatives are waiting to meet him he links true fraternal and maternal relationship with those who hear the word of God.
It is not difficult to see that, at least during his lifetime, Jesus’ family were not in sympathy with him. Mark 3:21 tells us how his kinsmen came and tried to restrain him because they believed him to be mad. In Matthew 10:36 Jesus warns his followers that a man’s foes may well be those of his own household–and he was speaking out of hard and bitter experience.
However, in contrast to Mark’s Gospel (3:31-35), Luke does not depreciate Jesus’ mother and relatives with the words ‘who is my mother and who are my brothers’. Here, Luke presents Mary as the model disciple who ponders God’s word and acts on it. Jesus is not disowning his mother, but rather pointing to her greatest glory: that she could say to God’s messenger: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Luke wants to present the family of Jesus as models of discipleship who listen to the Word of God and act on it.
What is our takeaway from this text?
Christians become God’s family neither by birth, nor by being a male, nor by observing laws of ritual purity, but by hearing and acting on God’s word. St Luke is highlighting the urgency of disciples who having heard the word are not willing to dirty their hands.
There is in this passage a great and practical truth. It may very well be that a man finds himself closer to people who are not related to him than he does to his own kith and kin. The deepest relationship of life is not merely a blood relationship; it is the relationship of mind to mind and heart to heart. It is when people have common aims, common principles, common interests, a common goal that they become really and truly kin. (Barcley)