Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”…Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”Mark 3:20-21, 31-35 NIV
This passage of scripture makes me think of the story I read as a child, Are You My Mother? except that I imagine the offspring saying, “You are NOT my mother!” These words of Jesus are hard to swallow at first glance.
About two full years into his ministry, Jesus was constantly followed by great crowds and great controversy. His family heard the reports and thought he was nuts. Since “take charge of” means “to take custody of”, they must have intended to take Jesus away, probably back home. This was a family intervention to reign in the one who was “beside himself”. But Jesus did not acknowledge Mary and her other sons as his family. You are not my mother! Ouch! It must have hurt to hear these words. After all she had done! Rejected! Pierced!
The jury is out on Mary’s motive behind this intervention. Some think Mary agreed with Jesus’ brothers. For her to take this step, she must have really felt he had gone too far and needed a cautioning mother talk. However, Dr. Timothy Ralston of Dallas Theological Seminary, feels that this doesn’t fit with the unwavering faith characteristic of Mary. In his words:
The word translated “out of his mind” describes someone who is confused or has lost something, including one’s spiritual and/or mental balance, one’s path or something else. This “loss of way” can be described as “becoming distracted or diverted.” Thus Mary’s concern is that the excessive demands of the crowd have distracted and diverted Jesus from his larger Messianic responsibilities. Her son, she believes, is in danger of losing his way.
What is clear is that Mary had to learn that Jesus’s mission and his way of fulfilling it did not look like what she envisioned. Jesus was always turning things upside down. And he did it again here by redefining his family. Of course, Jesus didn’t hate his family and he wasn’t trying to cut them out of his life. He was simply saying that his true family members were those in the Kingdom of God, those who do God’s will.
Joseph H. Hallerman writes that in Jesus’ world, blood relationships were of primary importance, in fact the brother-sister relationship was the strongest. Because marriages were arranged for the continuance of the patrilineal line and brides were strangers in their new home, one’s primary affection and loyalty were to one’s siblings. Therefore, when Jesus said that one’s spiritual brothers and sisters were to take precedence over one’s blood siblings, it was hugely counter-cultural.
Jesus reiterated this new spiritual relationship again in Matthew 10:37: Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Mary, like all disciples, had to be in a faith relationship with Jesus and follow his agenda.
Jesus was giving Mary the Gospel — the only path to blessedness. Physically giving birth to Jesus ultimately meant nothing if Mary never listened, believed, and lived out the teachings of her son. Her true calling life —and the only bond with him that endures — was to hear his words and to live by them. Her greatest calling was to follow Jesus and cultivate the family resemblance by becoming like her son.Carolyn Custis James
Life on a missionary team taught me to redefine family. Teammates were brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and even grandparents. We were frequently in each other’s homes for meals, game and movie nights, holidays and celebrations. We played together, laughed together and cried together. This concept of spiritual family brings comfort to the single, the widow, the childless, the orphan as it must have to Mary when her son died and went back to heaven.
Have you ever heard your child say “You are not my mother?” Describe your feelings.
Compare the emphasis you put on your blood relationships to that of your spiritual family?
How might you have idolized your nuclear family to the point of excluding others?
Father God, teach us what it means to be the family of God, to show our connection by doing your will and loving you most of all. Show us how to prioritize our spiritual relationships. Help us invite and include our spiritual siblings into our homes
Next in Mary series: Hopeless
For an updated and edited version purchase a copy of Favored Blessed Pierced: A Fresh Look at Mary of Nazareth, available on Amazon (see chapter entitled Redefined).
Dr. Timothy Ralston, “The Virgin Mary: Reclaiming Our Respect,” in Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible, edited by Sandra Glahn (Grand Rapids, MI: Kegel, 2017). This excerpt sent to me by the author from a pre-published draft.
James H. Hallerman, When the Church Was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009), chapter 2.
Carolyn Custis James, Lost Women of the Bible: The Women We Thought We Knew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 176.