Mark 3:31-35

The Kingdom Is Opposed (5) – Jesus As a Sign of Contradiction:

New Community Overrides Family

Mark 3:31-35 –Shared Faith Outweighs Blood Relationship

31 His mother and brothers arrived .
They stood outside and sent people in to call him.
32 The crowd sitting down around him said to him,
“Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” 
33 Replying to this, he said,
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 
34 Looking around at those sitting down encircling him,
he said, “Here are my mother and brothers.
35 Whoever does God’s will
is my brother and sister and mother.”

Reference had been made earlier (verse 21) to the family of Jesus going out to restrain him. In this section, 10 verses later, the family had arrived from wherever they came out from, and were identified as his mother and (his) brothers.

In the narrative Jesus left the family outside. He would not be domesticated?

Did Jesus have Brothers and Sisters?

Mark wrote with surprising ambiguity about the family of Jesus. Later in the narrative, when Jesus was briefly back in Nazareth, the crowd would make reference to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and to his brothers James, Joses, Judas and Simon, as well as to unnamed sisters.

A very early tradition claimed that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had no children other than Jesus. An apocryphal Gospel of the second century said that Joseph, the husband of Mary, was a widower when he married Mary. If that were the case, he could have had a number of sons and daughters from his first marriage, who could then have been easily understood, or at least easily referred to, as brothers and sisters of Jesus and sons and daughters of Mary, even though they were not literally so.

To break with family in the Galilee of that day was to cut loose not just from a close network of intimacy and emotional support but also from the safety net otherwise available in times of hardship, sickness and unemployment. It was effectively a choice to marginalise oneself. Life dedicated to the message of the Kingdom can be lonely. For Jesus, above all, it had its price.

Jesus used the occasion to make the comment that his true family - his mother and brothers at the level that mattered - was his family of disciples surrounding him. Indeed, whoever does God’s will is Jesus' brother and sister and mother.

Later in the narrative (10:28-31) Jesus would claim that, for his followers, discipleship was to rate more highly than family loyalty. A disciple had to be prepared to leave father, mother, brothers and sisters if they were a danger to committed discipleship. Indeed, any disciple who left natural family would find in the community of disciples the hundredfold mothers, brothers and sisters.

This would seem to be the point that Mark was illustrating in his recounting of this incident. Nothing must be allowed to tame the challenging message of the Kingdom, neither the vicious criticism of the cultural elite nor the incomprehension of family members.

Consistently with Mark’s approach elsewhere, Jesus outlined his message by his actions before he spelt it out in words. And he asked nothing of his disciples that he had not been prepared to ask of himself. Like Simon, Andrew, James and John before him, he, too, had left everything in his single-minded dedication to the Kingdom.

Mary as Faithful Disciple

The attitude of Jesus towards his mother may sit uneasily with traditional Catholic devotion to Mary. It may indeed challenge some aspects of that devotion, but in reality it may also invite a deeper, more focused, understanding of the true dignity of Mary.

Jesus was like his brothers and sisters in everything, even to feeling the temptations inherent in the process of all human growth to maturity and the acquisition of wisdom. The same no doubt equally applied to his mother. Like her son, she, too, had to grow in wisdom with the years, and specifically through her responses to the puzzling challenges encountered as her life unfolded.  She had to wrestle with uncertainty and the other temptations inherent in the human condition. 

The Mary who initially worried about her son was able to come to understand his uncompromising stance towards life and his radical commitment to the Kingdom of his God. Mary herself grew as faithful disciple. Her claim to greatness in the mind of Jesus lay then, not in the fact of her motherhood, but in the radicalness of her discipleship.

Mark positioned the incident in its present sequence to parallel the family’s criticism of Jesus and the more vicious criticism made by the scribes, but it was also strategically placed to foreshadow yet another theme that he would soon develop, the nature and composition of the community of disciples, already hinted at in the choice of the twelve.

Next >> Mark 4:1-9