Often, when detractors read Mark 3:31-33 where Jesus rebuffs his Mother and siblings, they view this as callous and uncaring. That Jesus ignores his own family honor and responsibility. But that is not necessarily true if we understand the complete picture.
I’m not certain why and the gospels do not really tell us, but Jesus’ family seems to have lost perspective on his “calling” and ministry. The inspiring song that Mary offered at his conception has faded from her mind and now she is more concerned about the song her son is singing – a song of redemption and conflict with the religious leaders of the day. A song that could get him killed. Consequently, they take action and move to seize Jesus by force because, as they described it, “He is out of his mind (Mark 3:21).”
What happened that made them feel this way? Was it seeing the crowds that followed him that made them think this? Was it his seemingly intentional aggravation of the Scribes and Pharisees by doing things on the Sabbath that they felt were not appropriate? Was it that the “demons” recognized him and he insisted they be silent? I suppose all of these things and more could lead a family to think perhaps there was a problem and they needed to intervene. I don’t suspect it was ignorance that compelled them but love and concern. They felt certain if he continued down this path that death would be imminent. They, especially Mary, seemed to have lost sight of Jesus’ role in the world and became concerned that he would soon sing a verse in the song of redemption that would tip the scales and cause skeptics to react with violence. They felt they must stop him.
Therefore, it was not malice or ill-intent that prompted Jesus to wonder “Who are my mother and my brothers…” It was out of a true understanding of his redemptive mission that these words were spoken. They may have misunderstood his mission but those who were followers and learners of his ministry, those who did the will of God, those were his brothers and sisters and mother. Jesus knew that doing the will of God, believing in the ministry of reconciliation, would not bring peace but a sword. It would divide families and pit them against one another. It would create conflict and division not harmony and unity (Matt 10:34ff). He was not being sarcastic with his question, he was being realistic.
This is indeed a hard concept to fold our arms around. When painted on a canvas of “for God so love the world” it is hard to see in the background personal and familial conflict. But it is there. Not like some subliminal message but a purposeful message that forces a choice; love of God and following Him or love of family. There is nothing easy about that choice. In fact, it is hard to imagine that a loving God would ever put us in a position of having to make that choice. To me, that is the nub of the issue – choosing. We are told to “honor our father and mother that our days may be long.” Now we are informed that believing in and doing the will of God may cause family conflict and confusion. That one family member may be pitted against another. That a choice must be made and family ties severed if that is what it takes to follow the Messiah. Hard indeed and seemingly in-congruent.
Choices are never easy. We have the right to choose, but we do not have the right to choose the consequences of our choices. If you are in a position of choosing – don’t lose heart. Choose on the basis of love – love for God and recognizing your love for family. That does not necessarily mean you abandon family in favor of God. It simply means your allegiance to God is stronger than your allegiance to family. Will that cause conflict – perhaps but don’t seek it. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and respect your family obligations. You may find that conflict is avoided and a respect for your belief begins.
Jesus never backtracked on any of his words that day. It was his family who came to understand his ministry and soon embraced it.