Today’s note is supplemental to the discussion on the role of Mary in the Gospel and early Christian tradition (in Part 7 of the current series on Women in the Church). As I noted previously, Mary is mentioned only twice in the core Synoptic Tradition, appearing briefly in just one episode: Mark 3:31-35 (with parallels in Matthew and Luke). The Markan narrative sequence (essentially followed by Matthew) can be outlined as follows:
- 3:19b-20—Narrative introduction; and cf. the context of Jesus’ healing (exorcism) miracles in vv. 10-12
- 3:21—Notice regarding the (negative) reaction by Jesus’ companions/relatives (lit. “the ones alongside”), declaring “he stands out of (himself)”, i.e. is beside himself, out of his mind, etc
- 3:22-30—Jesus/Beelzebul episode:
(i) The reaction by Scribes from Jerusalem to Jesus: “He holds Baal-zebul!”, “In (the power of) the chief of the daimons he casts out the daimons!” (v. 22)
(ii) Two sayings/illustrations by Jesus, the second of which refers to the blasphemy (lit. “insult”) against the Holy Spirit (vv. 23-29)
(iii) Comment/explanation by the Gospel writer (v. 30)
- 3:31-35—Jesus’ true family: (a) narrative setting (vv. 31-32), (b) reaction and illustrative statement by Jesus (vv. 33-35)
Note how this sequence draws upon two important themes from earlier in the narrative:
In 3:20-35, the central episode combines the first two of these themes—(a) Jesus’ power over the daimons and (evil) spirits responsible for disease, etc, and (b) hostile reaction by the religious authorities. Framing or bracketing this episode are two shorter episodes involving the reaction to Jesus by his (natural) relatives and companions, identified as:
In the first instance, “the ones alongside” Jesus may refer to his relatives and neighbors. Upon hearing the things he was saying and doing (the healing/exorcism miracles?), they “came out [e)ch=lqon] to grab/seize him”, thinking that he was ‘out of his mind’. At the very least, this indicates that Jesus’ relatives (or companions) did not understand who he was or the nature of his ministry. The second scene is less negative: Jesus’ family (his mother [Mary] and brothers) came [e&rxetai] and stood outside of the house (or room) where Jesus was staying and teaching, etc., and sent (a messenger) to call for him. Matthew’s version adds the detail that they were “wishing to speak to him” (v. 46), and narrates the words of the messenger (v. 47, missing in some manuscripts): “See, your mother and your brothers have (been) stand(ing) outside, looking to speak with you”; in Mark, the crowd around Jesus gives this information to him (3:32). Jesus response is:
“‘Who is my mother and [my] brothers?’ And looking around at the circle (of people) sitting around him, he said: ‘See!—(here is) my mother and my brothers! [For] whoever would do this will of God, this (one) is my brother and sister and mother.'” (vv. 33-35)
Jesus clearly is contrasting his natural family with those (his followers, etc) who do God’s will—i.e., his religious or spiritual family. Matthew’s version makes this even more clear: instead of “looking around” at the people, Jesus stretches out his hand over his disciples (12:49) before making the declaration.
Luke (8:19-21), it would seem, has changed the emphasis of this scene, in several ways:
- It no longer occurs in the context of the Beelzebul episode (narrated in 11:14-23), thus removing it from the theme of hostile/negative reaction and opposition to Jesus. It also is no longer set parallel with the reaction of Jesus’ companions in Mk 3:20 (Luke and Matthew both omit or do not include this scene).
- In the Lukan narrative context, the episode follows two Synoptic parables (8:4-18) which effectively emphasize faithful discipleship and response to the Gospel, in which the true disciples are contrasted with those who fall away or are not faithful. Moreover, the chapter begins with a notice (8:1-3) of Jesus’ close disciples who are sharing in his ministry work—this includes a number of women (vv. 2-3; cf. Mk 15:41).
- In the episode itself, there is no contrast between Jesus’ natural family and his disciples; almost certainly Luke has omitted this detail on purpose.
Here is how the episode reads in Luke’s version:
“And his mother and his brothers came to be alongside [parege/neto] near [pro$, lit. “toward”] him, but were unable to hit [i.e. meet] together with him through the throng (of people); and the message was (sent) to him: ‘Your mother and your brothers have (been) stand(ing) outside wishing to see you’. And answering Jesus said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers—these are the (one) hearing and doing the word of God!'”
We find less of a contrast or division—his family outside, Jesus and his disciples inside—in this version. Moreover, his mother [Mary] and brothers have come near to Jesus and wish to see him, but are unable to reach him through the crowd. In the Lukan context, this suggests that Mary and his brothers wish to be together with Jesus, as disciples, like the Twelve and the women mentioned in 8:1-3. Luke would count them as followers of Jesus—that is, as believers—but they are separated from him by circumstances related to his ministry work (i.e. the crowds). Earlier in the Infancy narrative, we find a similar image of Mary responding in faith and obedience (Lk 1:38, 46ff; 2:21-24, 39, 41), wishing to understand the nature of the miraculous events surrounding Jesus’ birth (2:19); but true belief/understanding would not result without difficulty and struggle (and division) along the way (2:35, 44-50). That there was some degree of misunderstanding and opposition toward Jesus by his family and relatives is indicated, not only in Mark 3:20, but by the narrative detail in John 7:1-10 (cf. also Mk 6:1-6 par; Lk 4:22-30). For more on this, see the relevant notes and articles in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition”. Ultimately, the Lukan interpretation of the scene in chapter 8, suggested above, is confirmed by the notice in Acts 1:14, where Mary and Jesus’ brothers are there, as believers, together with the Twelve and the faithful women—all in the same room, with no separation.