Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 32: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
MATTHEW 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35;
Luke 11:27-28; 8:19-21
46. And while he was still talking to the multitudes, lo, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak to him. 47. And one said to him, Lo, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak to thee. 48. But he answering said to him who had told him, Who is my mother, or who are my brethren? 49. And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, Lo, my mother and my brethren. 50. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.
31. And his mother and brethren came, and standing without, sent to him to call him. 152 32. And the multitude was sitting around him, and they say to him, Lo, thy mother and thy brethren without seek thee. 33. And he answered, saying to them, Who is my mother and my brethren? 34. And when he had looked all around on the disciples sitting around him, he said, Lo, my mother and my brethren. 35. For he who shall do the will of God is my brother, and my sister, and mother.
27. And it happened while he was saying these things, a certain woman from among the multitude, raising her voice, said to him, Blessed is the womb that bore thee, and the breasts which thou hath sucked. 28. but he said, Nay, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
19. And his mother and his brethren came to him, and could not reach him on account of the crowd. 20. And it was related and told him, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. 21. Who answering said to them, My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God, and do it. 153
Luke 11:27. Blessed is the womb. By this eulogium the woman intended to magnify the excellence of Christ; for she had no reference to Mary, 154 whom, perhaps, she had never seen. And yet it tends in a high degree to illustrate the glory of Christ, that she pronounces the womb that bore him to be noble and blessed. Nor was the blessing inappropriate, but in strict accordance with the manner of Scripture; for we know that offspring, and particularly when endued with distinguished virtues, is declared to be a remarkable gift of God, preferable to all others. It cannot even be denied that God conferred the highest honor on Mary, by choosing and appointing her to be the mother of his Son. And yet Christ’s reply is so far from assenting to this female voice, that it contains an indirect reproof.
Nay, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God. We see that Christ treats almost as a matter of indifference that point on which the woman had set a high value. And undoubtedly what she supposed to be Mary’s highest honor was far inferior to the other favors which she had received; for it was of vastly greater importance to be regenerated by the Spirit of God than to conceive Christ, according to the flesh, in her womb; to have Christ living spiritually within her than to suckle him with her breasts. In a word, the highest happiness and glory of the holy Virgin consisted in her being a member of his Son, so that the heavenly Father reckoned her in the number of new creatures.
In my opinion, however, it was for another reason, and with a view to another object, that Christ now corrected the saying of the woman. It was because men are commonly chargeable with neglecting even those gifts of God, on which they gaze with astonishment, and bestow the highest praise. This woman, in applauding Christ, had left out what was of the very highest consequence, that in him salvation is exhibited to all; and, therefore, it was a feeble commendation, that made no mention of his grace and power, which is extended to all. Christ justly claims for himself another kind of praise, not that his mother alone is reckoned blessed, but that he brings to us all perfect and eternal happiness. We never form a just estimate of the excellence of Christ, till we consider for what purpose he was given to us by the Father, and perceive the benefits which he has brought to us, so that we who are wretched in ourselves may become happy in him. But why does he say nothing about himself, and mention only the word of God? It is because in this way he opens to us all his treasures; for without the word he has no intercourse with us, nor we with him. Communicating himself to us by the word, he rightly and properly calls us to hear and keep it, that by faith he may become ours.
We now see the difference between Christ’s reply and the woman’s commendation; for the blessedness, which she had limited to his own relatives, is a favor which he offers freely to all. He shows that we ought to entertain no ordinary esteem for him, because he has all the treasures of life, blessedness, and glory, hidden in him, (Col 2:3,) which he dispenses by the word, that they may be communicated to those who embrace the word by faith; for God’s free adoption of us, which we obtain by faith, is the key to the kingdom of heaven. The connection between the two things must also be observed. We must first hear, and then keep; for as faith cometh by hearing, (Ro 10:17,) it is in this way that the spiritual life must be commenced. Now as the simple hearing is like a transitory looking into a mirror, 155 as James says, (1:23,) he likewise adds, the keeping of the word, which means the effectual reception of it, when it strikes its roots deep into our hearts, and yields its fruit. The forgetful hearer, whose ears alone are struck by the outward doctrine, gains no advantage. On the other hand, they who boast that they are satisfied with the secret inspiration, and on this ground disregard the outward preaching, shut themselves out from the heavenly life. What the Son of God hath joined let not men, with wicked rashness, put asunder, (Mt 19:6.) The Papists discover amazing stupidity by singing, in honor of Mary, those very words by which their superstition is expressly condemned, and who, in giving thanks, detach the woman’s saying, and leave out the correction. 156 But it was proper that such a universal stupefaction should come upon those who intentionally profane, at their pleasure, the sacred word of God.
Luke 8:19. And his mother and his brethren came to him. There is an apparent discrepancy here between Luke and the other two Evangelists; for, according to their arrangement of the narrative, they represent Christ’s mother and cousins as having come, while he was discoursing about the unclean spirit, while he refers to a different occasion, and mentions only the woman’s exclamation, which we have just now explained. But we know that the Evangelists were not very exact as to the order of dates, or even in detailing minutely every thing that Christ did or said, so that the difficulty is soon removed. Luke does not state at what precise time Christ’s mother came to him; but what the other two Evangelists relate before the parable of the sower he introduces after it. The account which he gives of the exclamation of the woman from among the multitude bears some resemblance to this narrative; for inconsiderate zeal may have led her to exalt to the highest pitch what she imagined that Christ had unduly lowered.
All the three Evangelists agree in stating, that while Christ was discoursing in the midst of a crowd of people, his mother and brethren came to him The reason must have been either that they were anxious about him, or that they were desirous of instruction; for it is not without some good reason that they endeavor to approach him, and it is not probable that those who accompanied the holy mother were unbelievers. Ambrose and Chrysostom accuse Mary of ambition, but without any probability. What necessity is there for such a conjecture, when the testimony of the Spirit everywhere bestows commendation on her distinguished piety and modesty? The warmth of natural affection may have carried them beyond the bounds of propriety: this I do not deny, but I have no doubt that they were led by pious zeal to seek his society. Matthew relates that the message respecting their arrival was brought by one individual: Mark and Luke say that he was informed by many persons. But there is no inconsistency here; for the message which his mother sent to call him would be communicated, as usually happens, from one hand to another, till at length it reached him.
Matthew 12:48. Who is my mother? These words were unquestionably intended to reprove Mary’s eagerness, and she certainly acted improperly in attempting to interrupt the progress of his discourse. 157 At the same time, by disparaging the relationship of flesh and blood, our Lord teaches a very useful doctrine; for he admits all his disciples and all believers to the same honorable rank, as if they were his nearest relatives, or rather he places them in the room of his mother and brethren Now this statement is closely connected with the office of Christ; for he tells us that he has been given, not to a small number of individuals, but to all the godly, who are united in one body with him by faith. He tells us also, that there is no tie of relationship more sacred than spiritual relationship, because we ought not to think of him according to the flesh, but according to the power of his Spirit which he has received from the Father to renew men, so that those who are by nature the polluted and accursed seed of Abraham begin to be by grace the holy and heavenly sons of God. In like manner, Paul affirms that to know Christ after the flesh is not to know him properly, (2Co 5:16,) because we ought rather to consider that renovation of the world, which far exceeds human power, and which takes place when he forms us anew by his Spirit to the image of God. To sum up the whole, this passage, first, teaches us to behold Christ with the eyes of faith; and, secondly, it informs us, that every one who is regenerated by the Spirit, and gives himself up entirely to God for true justification, is thus admitted to the closest union with Christ, and becomes one with him.
50. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven. When he says that they do the will of his Father, he does not mean that they fulfill, in a perfect manner, the whole righteousness of the law; for in that sense the name brother, which is here given by him to his disciples, would not apply to any man. 158 But his design is, to bestow the highest commendation on faith, which is the source and origin of holy obedience, and at the same time covers the defects and sins of the flesh, that they may not be imputed. This, says Christ in a well-known passage,
is the will of my Father, that whosoever seeth the Son, and believeth in him, may not perish, but have eternal life,
Although these words seem to imply that Christ has no regard to the ties of blood, yet we know that in reality he paid the strictest attention to human order, 159 and discharged his lawful duties towards relatives; but points out that, in comparison of spiritual relationship, no regard, or very little, is due to the relationship of the flesh. Let us therefore attend to this comparison, so as to perform all that nature can justly claim, and, at the same time, not to be too strongly attached to flesh and blood. Again, as Christ bestows on the disciples of his Gospel the inestimable honor of being reckoned as his brethren, we must be held guilty of the basest ingratitude, if we do not disregard all the desires of the flesh, and direct every effort towards this object.
“Et estans dehors envoyerent quelques uns vers luy pour l’appeler;” — “and being without, sent some persons to him to call him.”
“Mais luy respondant leur dit, Ceux-la sont ma mere et mes freres, qui oyent la parole de Dieu, et la mettent en effect;” — “but he answering said to them, Those are my mother and my brethren, who hear the word of God, and put it in practice.”
“Il ne faut pas penser qu’elle eust regard a Marie;” — “we must not suppose that she had reference to Mary.”
“Autant que l’ouye simple est comme quand on regarde en un mirroir, et que la memoire s’en escoule incontinent;” — “since the simple hearing is as when we look into a mirror, and the remembrance of it immediately passes away.”
“Et en leurs graces apres le repas, ils prenent le dire de la femme, laissans la correction qui estoit le principal;” — “and in their thanksgivings after a meal, they employ the woman’s saying leaving out the correction, which was the most important matter,”
“Et de faict, c’estoit mal avise a elle de vouloir ainsi rompre son propos, lors qu’il enseignoit;” — “and in fact, it was foolish in her to wish to break off his discourse in this manner, while he was teaching.”
“Ne conviendroit a homme vivant;” — “would not apply to any man living.”
“Qu’a la verite il a observe et entretenu en toute sainctete l’ordre qui est entre les hommes;” — “that in reality he observed and maintained.”