20 One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. 21 When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. 22 But the teachers of religious law who had arrived from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by Satan, the prince of demons. That’s where he gets the power to cast out demons.” 31 …Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them. 32 There was a crowd sitting around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” 33 Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers.” 34 Then he looked at those around him and said,“Look, these are my mother and brothers. 35 Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20-21, 31-35)
I. INITIAL QUESTIONS & OBSERVATIONS
1. What does Jesus’ family think he is out of his mind? Is this a compliment? What about the religious leaders? Why do they think he has a demon? Is this a compliment?
2. Why do we learn about Jesus’ family in this text? Why does it not mention Jesus’ father?
3. Why did they stand outside and send someone to tell him to come out? Why didn’t they just go themselves?
4. What point is Jesus making by his question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
5. What do we know about Jewish family values in the time of Jesus?
6. Is Jesus being disrespectful to his mother and brothers here? Is Jesus being anti-family here?
7. What is the main point Jesus is trying to make in this encounter?
II. EXEGESIS & INTERPRETATION
Many may be surprised when they come upon this often overlooked Christ Encounter that our Savior and Lord, Jesus himself, was labeled a loony, considered “out of his mind” by his own mother and brothers, and mistaken for a demon-possessed nutcase. I have never heard this passage emphasized on an episode of Focus on the Family and youth pastors are probably wise to just avoid this teaching of Jesus — lest parents draw the wrong conclusion that we are somehow downplaying the significance of family.
We can be “good Christians”, read our Bibles, go to church on Sundays and say a prayer before our meals without letting our faith challenge our core allegiances in life. But if we want to move beyond safe, comfortable, domesticated “churchianity” and become a true, sold-out, radical Jesus followers, then we need to wrestle with “allegiance-passages” like this.
You can profess to be a Jesus-follower with your lips but your true allegiances are revealed by the way you live and order your life. For example, if you claim God as your provider but lose faith when you lose your job, then Money or financial stability may be your true God. If you claim Jesus is your Lord but trust your own insight in making all the big decisions of life without prayer or God, then you may be the true Lord of your life. If you claim Jesus as your as your King and call yourself a citizen of the Kingdom of God but invest most of your time and energy debating the worldly politics of the American Right and Left then your primary allegiance may in fact be to the American flag rather than the Kingdom of Christ. Religious people talk politely of private beliefs, while Kingdom-centered Jesus followers talk of new allegiances.
So, we at last come to Jesus’ encounter with his well-intentioned, but misguided mother and brothers. This story reveals how misunderstood Jesus was by people close to him. Jesus didn’t fit into any of their categories. He was breaking all the molds people wanted him to fit into. His family no doubt wanted him to settle down a bit and stop drawing so much attention to himself with all of the crowd-exciting miracles and dangerous confrontations with the religious leaders who are out to trap and kill him. He was breaking all the rules of the religious leaders so they had to figure out a different source of his wonder-working power — i.e., he must be in league with Satan because God wouldn’t let someone break all of the religious rules!
Jesus boldly, shockingly practices here what he preaches elsewhere: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else” (Matt 6:33) and “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matt 6:14). Again, “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution” (Mark 10:29-30). Those who are “in Christ” gain a whole new set of allegiances, priorities, and, alas, family members. It is important to note that we do not abandon our biological families but it certainly becomes secondary in importance to our new spiritual family in Christ with God as our Father. It is also important to point out that we are not endorsing neglect of our own biological families, spending less time with them and so on. We are talking of primary allegiances. Again, Jesus takes it a step further: “Don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father” (Matt 23:9).
The following commentary unpacks the significance of this startling passage:
“If you have ever felt like the whole world was against you, you can at least empathize with some of the pain of Jesus’ calling: not only the religious leaders (Matt 12:24, 38) but his own family doubted him. Family ties were paramount (compare clan ties even in Rome-for example, Dupont 1992:106-8), and being perceived as antifamily brought even more reproach then than it does today (see Derrett 1973:39). Yet Jesus followed the practice he had demanded of others (Matt 8:21-22; 10:37): the kingdom of God comes first. Obedience to God’s will (Matt 7:21; 21:31; 26:42) is what makes one Jesus’ true brother, sister or mother (Matt 25:40; 28:10). When we acknowledge God as our Father, his family becomes our family, and our allegiance to him as Father must come before all earthly allegiances” (IVP New Testament Commentary).
The meaning of this teaching is straightforward. That is: Our primary social circle with whom we live out the Kingdom-centered, Jesus-shaped life is the family of Christ. Or, as Jesus puts it: “Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (v. 35). It is the practical, living out of this Kingdom reality that takes great faith, wisdom, patience and respect. This is especially difficult for Christians who live with unbelieving mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. It is perhaps even more difficult for those whose family is “religious” and “church-going” but like Jesus’ family in this passage still looks at radical Jesus followers as too extreme for their taste — a bit “out of their mind.”
Questions youth pastors like myself have to wrestle with in making disciples of this Jesus while honoring and respecting parents with differing views include:
What do I say to a parent who acts as though getting good grades and getting into a prestigious college is more important than growing as a mature disciple of Christ?
What do I say to a high school graduate who feels called to the mission field but whose parents will only help pay for college if they pursue a more practical, financially feasible career?
When is it appropriate to give a student advice that goes against the advice their parents gave on the same matter?
What do you do when you’re in the middle of a disagreement or conflict between a teenager and their parents, and you know that the child is more in the right, and seeing things from a more spiritually mature perspective? It does happen.
May we all have the courage to put Christ’s family of followers and his Kingdom purposes at the center of our lives. May we all raise families that nurture this same Kingdom-mindedness in a world of competing allegiances. And let us not grow discouraged when people around us don’t quite understand our transferred allegiance to this new kind of kingdom, for this passage reminds us that we are in very good company.
III. PERSONAL APPLICATION QUESTIONS
1. How often do you appear “out of your mind” as you follow God’s Kingdom way of life? If you never do, is that possibly a sign that you aren’t truly following Jesus’ radical, sometimes strange way of life?
2. Have you ever been so busy in a project/task that you’re passionate about that you didn’t even want to stop to eat? What was it? Have you ever been that excited about something related to God and his Kingdom?
3. Do you ever feel completely misunderstood and the whole world seems to be against you? When? How does it feel?
4. Have you ever done something good and others accused you of doing bad (hopefully not labeling you a “Satanist”!)?
5. What is your family members’ faith like? Do you share the same faith convictions and practices? Are there any core differences where you don’t agree on matters of faith?
6. Does your family help you grow in your faith and allegiance to Christ? Or does your family (knowingly or unknowingly) steer you in directions that lead you away from obedience to Christ? Is Christ at the center of your family’s priorities?
7. Do you feel like you’re part of a bigger family in Christ? Do you feel as close and as loved by the church as your family at home?
8. What do you want or need from the family of Christ? Are you getting what you need? Do you need to get more plugged in to the church in order to get to know more of your brothers and sisters in Christ? Where can you get plugged in?