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“Someone”, a creative reflection

“Someone”, a creative reflection

This reflection grew out of a shared Lectio Divina group session one year ago, and continued pondering and research. It has led to further exploration of “Songs of the Unsung”, which I may publish in due course.


While [Jesus] was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’

Matthew 12.46-50
(NRSV; Greek interlinear)


Creative reflection

This small vignette has parallels in Mark 3.31-35 and Luke 8.19-21, and Matthew is probably following Mark. So why not reflect on Mark’s version? Well, Matthew 12.46–50 was the Gospel set for Tuesday 21 July 2020 and used in my shared Lectio Divina group. More fundamentally, Mark does not include a ‘Someone’ among his dramatis personae, so this reflection would simply not have arisen. I do however draw insights from both Mark’s and Luke’s versions.

Context and Pharisees

Let’s start with some context.

Earlier in Chapter 12, Matthew describes a series of feisty exchanges between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees. The disciples pick and eat heads of grain on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees complain. Jesus heals a man with a withered hand in a synagogue on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees respond by conspiring to destroy him. Jesus is followed by crowds, who he cures. Among them is a demoniac. The Pharisees, who also appear to be following Jesus around (in body if not in mind), accuse him of casting out demons by Beelzebul, and he calls them a “brood of vipers”. Then the scribes and Pharisees asked him for a sign, and he calls them “an evil and adulterous generation” for doing so.

Now, Jesus is still speaking to the crowds. We don’t know exactly where he is, but there are hints.

Location of our story

First of all, there is an “outside” (12.46), so we must be inside. In the next chapter we read: “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake” (Matt 13.1) and “Then he left the crowds and went into the house.” (Mat 13.36). So we are in a house. It is a familiar house, which Jesus is able to go into and out of without ceremony, and it is either big enough or open to the elements enough to enable Jesus to speak to the crowds.

Geographically, we are on “the lake”, that is the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus is not in his home town. In chapter 13, Jesus tells and explains a number of parables, then “he left that place. He came to his home town” where his family lived and were familiar (Matt 13.53-56).

The home town may be Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. Luke’s pseudo-parallel of this story in Matthew 13 is set in Nazareth and specifically not in Capernaum (see Luke 4.16,22-23).

On the other hand, according to Matthew, Joseph did make a home for his family in Nazareth after returning from Egypt (Matthew 2.23), but after the Temptations Jesus “left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake” (Matthew 4.13). Mark also places Jesus’ home in Capernaum from early on in his ministry (Mark 2.1).

Nazareth is quite some distance from the Sea of Galilee, but Capernaum could be just round the coast and we may be quite close to Jesus’ home town.

Rounding out the dramatis personae

So far, our dramatis personae are Jesus; the crowds, many of whom he had cured; and the scribes and Pharisees. To these we can add Jesus’ mother and his brothers; “Someone”, also known as “the one”; his disciples; and of course the eyewitness who handed this story on and was probably a disciple.

Whether they had travelled from Nazareth afar or from Capernaum near at hand, we might ask why Jesus’ mother and his brothers were there. (Many manuscripts of the parallel in Mark include his sisters here too; Mark 3.32.) Why not one brother only, sent with a message? Had the whole family come to visit? In which case, why did Jesus go back to his home town, presumably travelling with his mother and brothers? Perhaps they had heard he was in the vicinity, and popped over from the next-door village to hear him speak and persuade him to spend some time with them.

Or had they heard he was causing trouble, and come mob-handed to take him home before he caused any more? Mark has a short story to this effect, set slightly earlier before the altercation over casting out demons: “Then [Jesus] went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’” (Mark 3.19b-21).1

The disciples appear only in Matthew’s version of the vignette. They do not appear in Mark’s original, which instead has Jesus looking at “those who sat around him”. According to the custom of the times, this was how learners listened to their teachers, or disciples to their Rabbi.

Matthew remains close to Mark, in that the Greek word mathétés used by Matthew and translated ‘disciple’ can also mean learner or pupil. Matthew, however, is writing for a Jewish Christian community at odds with Jewish leaders. So he is being careful to distinguish Jesus’ disciples from the crowds, and in particular from the scribes and Pharisees.

Who was Someone?

What of this “Someone”, also known as “the one”?

Matthew tells us that Jesus’ mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to him (12.46). But this is not enough; Jesus needs to find out somehow. So Matthew repeats himself in verse 47, putting this information into the mouth of Someone.

This is noteworthy, because Matthew tends to omit repetition in order to keep the story moving. (Some manuscripts therefore omit verse 47 as a repetition of verse 46. But the phrasing of verse 48 – “the one who had told him this” – demands the inclusion of the previous “Someone told him” in verse 47. Matthew could as easily have omitted the second half of verse 46 and written “While he was still speaking to the crowds, someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’“)

Moreover, according to Mark, Jesus’ mother and brothers “came; and… sent to him and called him” (Mark 3.31), which is consistent with his earlier short story supplying their motive for being there (Mark 3.19b-21), and Luke tells us that Jesus’ family “came to him, but they could not reach him… And he was told” that they were there (Luke 8.19-20a).

That is, Matthew seems to have deliberately added this Someone, and he mentions them twice. So why doesn’t he tell us more about Someone?

If Someone were one of the scribes or Pharisees, Matthew would probably have said so. He indicates “a scribe” in Matt 8.19, for example. If someone were a disciple, Matthew might have named them had Jesus address the ‘other’ disciples in verse 49.

Maybe Someone is not thought important enough to be named. Or maybe the eyewitness doesn’t have a sight-line in the crowd and can’t see them and doesn’t recognise their voice. The eyewitness and therefore Matthew simply don’t know who Someone is.

So Someone has no relationship to Jesus like his mother and brothers, no role in society like the scribes or the disciples, and no name. Someone is seemingly a person of no importance, excluded from the various inner circles. Yet Someone does have a role as a catalyst in this story, and we can tease out more through Someone’s words.

Someone knows the family…

First, Someone knows Jesus’ mother and brothers.

By “Someone told him” in verse 47, Matthew could mean that Someone relays a message, and we have a case of Chinese whispers and Someone doesn’t know the family. Or he could mean that Someone has come with the family, and muscles their way into the crowd in order to announce them.

However, there is a more likely reading of verse 47. Someone says “Look”, your family are “standing outside”. That is, Someone is already inside, and is letting Jesus know that his family is outside, while pointing them out to him.

In other words, Someone is present with Jesus, inside a house that isn’t in his home town (which if it is Nazareth is some distance away), but still knows his family well enough to be able to identify them through a crowd. We can conjecture that Someone is reasonably close to Jesus and his family.

…but gets the wrong end of the stick

Secondly, could Someone be a little like Peter the disciple, always able to get the wrong end of the stick, misread a situation and jump in with both feet?

When Someone notices the family outside, they are distracted from Jesus and his teaching. His family becomes the focus of attention. They are now the important people with an urgent need, more important than the crowd debating with and listening to Jesus. So Someone interrupts Jesus to point them out.

In one of my readings of the passage, I mistook the phrase “wanting to speak to him” (12.46,47) as “waiting to speak to him”. I pictured Jesus’ family standing and waiting patiently outside for an opportune moment to speak to him. It is not an unreasonable reading of the English, because patient waiting for some duration could be implied by the continuous tenses in verse 46: “While he was still speaking … were standing … wanting”.

However, the Greek verb translated as “were standing” is in the pluperfect indicative active, that is, they ‘had stood’ or ‘had been standing’. Also, in verse 47, the repetition by Someone translated as “are standing” is the perfect indicative active, that is, ‘have stood’ or ‘have been standing’. Together, these might indicate a modicum of impatience!

Whatever his family’s reasons for being outside the house, whether their message is urgent or can wait, Jesus himself has no sense of urgency. After this story, he spends some time teaching in parables and explaining them to the disciples before he leaves that place and goes to his home town (Matt 13.1-53).

So even after Someone’s blurted message, Jesus continues to pay attention to the people he is teaching at that moment. He is not distracted. In that moment he is focused on the truly important and essential, rather than the seemingly urgent but non-essential.

Jesus speaks to Someone

As he does not name Someone in verse 47, Matthew now has to use an awkward construction2 in verse 48: “But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied”. Yet he could have simply written “But Jesus said” and he would also have been able to omit verse 47. Why then mention “the one” again? Matthew is telling us that Jesus actually directed his reply to Someone.

Jesus’ rhetorical question in response could be taken to be a slap down; Someone is trying to be helpful and is dismissed by Jesus. But we don’t know Jesus’ tone of voice. We only have the transcript of the story, not the recording.

Consider instead that although Someone is the means of distraction, Someone is also one of those important people there with Jesus, on whom his attention is focused.

Even though Someone is not named, or seen, or their voice recognised, Jesus hears them, and replies first directly to them.

Even though Someone has no name, no role like the disciples, no relationship to Jesus like his mother and brothers, is seemingly a person of no importance, excluded from the inner circle, maybe Jesus points at Someone in a way that includes them first as he asks his question: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Maybe he even smiles and touches Someone. You, personally, individually and specially are my mother and my brother.

Jesus speaks to the disciples

Just as Luke earlier omits Someone from the story and uses the passive voice (Jesus “was told”, Luke 8.20), so he omits the rhetorical question and jumps straight to the answer. Mark however tells us that Jesus first asks the question, and then “looking at those who sat around him” (Mark 3.34), he answers it.

Matthew broadly follows Mark, with some important differences. Mark has Jesus “looking at”, while Matthew has him “pointing to”. As already noted above, Mark has Jesus looking at “those who sat around him”, addressing those at his feet who are physically closer to him, while Matthew has him pointing to “his disciples”, to distinguish them from the crowds and the scribes and Pharisees.

Yet, when Jesus points at the disciples, saying “Here are my mother and my brothers!” (verse 49), Jesus was saying that even those disciples who mess things up (as Someone does) and misinterpret Jesus and ultimately desert him are his family.3 Discipleship is an intimate relationship, and can be counted among the closest of human bonds.

Jesus speaks to whoever

Then, according to both Mark and Matthew, Jesus broadens the possibility of relationship out further to the whole crowd and among them “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt 12.50; Mark 3.35 has “will of God”). Perhaps he gestures once more, now sweeping his arm around the whole room.

This “whoever” can be anyone, whether named or not named, are with or without a role, are already Jesus’ followers or his one-time enemies, or are part of Jesus’ human biological family or not.

Anyone who turns to face in the same direction as Jesus, pays attention to the same things, focuses on God’s will, however imperfectly at times, may be included in his most intimate relationship: his relationship with his “Father in heaven”.

Anyone is invited. No-one is left out or slapped down or dismissed. Everyone may be a Someone.


I waited patiently, and you O God bent down to me and heard my cry. You put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise. So here I am. I delight to do your will, O my God, and your law is within my heart. Do not withhold your mercy from me. Let your steadfast love and faithfulness keep me safe. May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you for ever, though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

adapted from Psalm 40


  • NRSV – see
  • Burton H. Throckmorton (1992) “Gospel Parallels”, 5th edition, Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
  • Greek source and Strong’s – see
  • Daniel J Harrington SJ (2007) “The Gospel of Matthew”, Sacra Pagina Series, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota.
  • Thank you to Chris Bryan for his reading and insights.



1 Like Matthew, Luke does not include this story.

2 The English seems awkward, at least. Perhaps the Greek eipen tō legonti autō is less so.

3 The only time in John’s Gospel that Jesus calls the twelve disciples “my brothers” occurs in 20.17, after they have all betrayed, deserted, denied knowing him and fled.