Jesus’ new community take shape
We’re in a section in Mark that I am calling ‘Jesus’ new community takes shape.’ Jesus has chosen the leaders of his new community – the 12 apostles, and today we see who makes up the rest of this new community; which is the remnant of Israel.
We’re dealing with verses 20-21 out of order because these verses go with vs. 31-35. Mark is famous for putting one story in the middle of another. A kind of story sandwich, if you will. He does this because he wants the two stories to be read together, because they have something in common. In this case we see that it is not just the scribes from Jerusalem who reject Jesus – his family does as well.
Mark 3:20-21; 31-35
20Then he went home, and the crowd gathered again, so that they could not even eat.
So this verse starts just after Jesus has finished choosing the 12 apostles. When it says “he went home” (or into a house) it most likely means that he’s back in Capernaum, his home base and also it probably means that he’s in Peter and Andrew’s house again.
As always, the crowds gather around Jesus. In this instance there are so many people that “they could not even eat,” referring to Jesus and his disciples.
21And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, “He is out of his mind.”
His family back in Nazareth hears about the crowds and perhaps specifically that Jesus is not able to eat because of them and they decide that they need to do something.
What’s translated “family” here is literally “those of him.” It’s kind of a vague way of talking about his natural family. (That it is indeed is family is made clear in v. 31)
They come to “seize” him or take control of him. The word can have the sense of arresting or forcibly seizing someone. It sounds like they want to bring him back with them to Nazareth away from the crowds and the spotlight.
They do this because they think he’s out of his mind; he’s saying and doing things that they don’t understand and he’s so caught up in what he thinks is his mission from God, that he’s not eating.
Their charge that he’s out of his mind is not the same as the scribes’ charge that Jesus is demon possessed. But it’s at least analogous since demons were sometimes thought to cause insanity (John 10:20-21). As will become even more clear below – they don’t believe in him as the Son of God and anointed one at this point (See also John 7:3-5).
And so they decide to stage what we would call today a “family intervention.” It’s unclear if their motivation is for Jesus’ own well-being or if they are primarily concerned about their family’s reputation. Maybe a bit of both. Certainly his actions reflected back on them for good or ill and family honor was a huge concern in that day.
What a painful rejection Jesus endures in our story. Can you imagine? You’re doing God’s will and your own family thinks you’re crazy. So when Jesus calls others to leave family behind or if their commitment to him causes their family to reject them just know that it happened to Jesus also.
Well our verse tells us that they set off for Capernaum. Then we skip down to v. 31.
31And his mother and his brothers came . . .
They arrive. That Joseph isn’t mentioned here suggests that he has already died. So Mary leads the delegation.
The word “brothers” can also mean more broadly “siblings.” In v. 35 Jesus mentions sisters and Jesus’ sisters may be in this group as well. Mark 6:3 – tells us that Jesus had four brothers – James, Joses, Judas and Simon – and more than one sister.
There’s no reason to think that the siblings here are anything other than Jesus’ actual step-brothers and sisters, that is – children of Joseph and Mary – born after Jesus. (Certainly actual brothers and sisters fits better the picture he paints below of his new family – Hurtado).
. . . and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.”
This is strange since usually one’s family is inside the house and others are outside, but we’ll see how it’s actually not that strange in a moment.
Now the crowd in vs. 20-21 is distinguished from Jesus’ disciples and they are disruptive to Jesus’ work. Here the crowd is sitting around him. Sitting at Jesus’ feet is the position of a disciple or student (2 Kings 4:38; Luke 8:35; 10:39; Acts 22:3). In other words, the crowd here is a group of disciples. In fact, this is where we meet the rest of Jesus’ new community, that is, beyond the 12 apostles. This is the remnant of Israel gathered around Jesus. (See also Mark 4:10, 34 for this group of disciples around him) (The 12 are to be “with him” 3:14, and these here are similarly “around him.”
There’s a strong contrast going on in these verses:
- Jesus’ natural family is standing and they are outside (2x). Both of which point out spatially what is true spiritually – they’re not followers of Jesus. They’re not in a position of learning, but are on the outside looking in.
- Jesus’ disciples are sitting and they are inside. They are the learners; they are the insiders.
And taking into account vs. 20-21:
- Jesus’ natural family is described as “those from him.”
- Jesus’ disciples here are described as “those around him.”
So the very way the story is told – the spatial language – (sitting, standing; outside, inside; from, around) points out the differences between the two groups in relation to commitment to Jesus and the kingdom of God.
33And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
This would have been quite shocking to ancient ears. And maybe we don’t even get this when we hear the story. Family was much more important than it is today and loyalty and great honor were required. But Jesus seems dismissive. But what he’s really doing is redefining family and prioritizing his relationships.
34And looking about at those who sat around him, “Here are my mother and my brothers!
His true family is made up of his disciples; those who are part of his new community of the kingdom of God; the remnant of Israel. And they have priority over his natural family.
What sets these people apart from others?
35Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
(See a similar idea in John 15:14)
Now everyone in the story – the scribes, Jesus’ family – they all think they’re doing God’s will. Jesus means, more specifically – doing God’s will according to his preaching and teaching. Those sitting around him are listening to just this. And that’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus – you learn his teaching and you put it into practice.
Notice the open ended language, “whoever.” His natural family, and all people are invited to be a part of his new community.
What Jesus teaches here raises a number of points. First we learn that the church is God’s family made up of believing Jews and Gentiles.
God is our Father. Jesus taught us to pray “our Father in heaven” – Matthew 6:9. And we are God’s children – Romans 8:14-17. And we are all brothers and sisters. In Matthew 23:8 he says, “you are all brothers” – which means brothers and sisters. And this language is used throughout the NT. And Jesus is our older brother, or the firstborn of the family – Hebrews 2:11; Romans 8:29. We are a family and this is how it’s set-up.
God’s family takes priority over our natural families. You’ve heard the saying ‘blood is thicker than water.’ This means family always has the highest priority and loyalty. Well, for Christians ‘water is thicker than blood.’ That is, the water of baptism by which we commit ourselves to Jesus takes precedence over our loyalty to our biological/legal family.
Now, don’t think this means you can ignore your family responsibilities. Jesus taught that apart from sexual immorality there is to be no divorce in Mark 10:2-12. So men can’t just dump wives they don’t like, which is a lot of what was happening. And he taught very strongly about caring for aging parents in Mark 7:6-13 (See also John 19:25-27)
It just means that if our family pressures us to do something other than what Jesus teaches, we always go with Jesus. Just as we see modeled here by Jesus. They wanted him to stop his mission. But Jesus said no.
Listen to what he has to say in Matthew 10:35-37 – “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” That is because of commitment to Jesus. And then he goes on, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Jesus and his family take priority.
Rightly understood, believers have more in common with each other than with their unbelieving natural family members.
And all of what I’ve just said applies to our country as well – our extended natural family based on biology and law. If our government tells us to do something other than what Jesus teaches us – we go with Jesus. As Peter said in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” Rightly understood, American believers have more in common with believers in other countries – Congo, Iraq, Russia, Colombia or wherever – than we do with unbelieving Americans.
Our new family supports us as followers of Jesus. Jesus tells those that must leave family in order to follow him that they will gain a new family. “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands . . .” – Mark 10:29-30. We may have to leave our natural family but we gain the family of Jesus.
And Jesus warns his followers that our natural families can turn on us because of our commitment to him. “And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.” – Mark 13:11. Our believing family, however, is here to encourage us and help us as we seek to do God’s will in this world.