Summary: The authority of Jesus was constantly challenged. We must avoid doing the same
Challenging the Authority of Jesus (Mark 3:20 to 35)
Our reading this morning describes two challenges to the authority of Jesus. They are very different challenges; the first is from his family who we would expect to be on his side and the second comes from some teachers of the law who we would expect to oppose his authority at every opportunity. The challenges also differ in that they come from one group of people who know him very well as a person and one group of people who know him primarily by reputation. I would also suggest that one of the challenges is intentional and the other unintentional.
Jesus's popularity was such that he was frequently followed by large crowds not only wishing to hear him preach and teach but seeking healing for themselves, members of their family, or their friends. The healing was not limited to people with physical illness but included those with mental and spiritual problems. When we consider Jesus is power to heal and his skill as a teacher, we should not be surprised that so many people sought him.
In a world where medicine as a science was poorly developed and illness often meant being excluded from society, finding someone like Jesus must have seemed like a gift from heaven (which of course he was). When a new miracle drug is announced today, sufferers of the disease it is intended to cure will not only rush off to their doctor to see if they can be treated with the drug but will, more importantly, be given new hope.
To the crowds who sought out Jesus it was the offer of hope that drove them. His healing offered hope of a radically different and new life, not just to the individual who was healed but to his or her family. His teaching offered hope of a radically different and new spiritual life that need not end with earthly death. We should not underestimate the oppressive impact of Jewish rituals and laws on ordinary people. They faced a constant struggle to understand exactly what they needed to do in order to get themselves right with God.
Even when they understood what was needed they faced a struggle to do what was required; and that was for the lucky ones who were not considered to be outcasts merely as a consequence of an illness they suffered. There are so many examples of this in the Gospels. The woman who suffered from haemorrhages, the lepers, the mentally ill and those who were possessed could not live even remotely normal lives and had little contact with other people who avoided them for fear of being, themselves, made ritually unclean.
Little wonder then that the crowds following Jesus numbered many thousands and, who their own desperate need, were oblivious to his need for food, time to pray or just simply to rest. When we remember how many times Jesus responded to the crowds out of compassion even when he was tired, we can have some grasp of how much pressure was placed upon him by people in need. In our reading we are told that, "Jesus entered the house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat".
In the same way that Jesus's popularity generated huge crowds of people seeking his help and love, his popularity generated an endless stream of people seeking the destruction of his reputation and an end to the threat he posed to the power of those in authority.
I am a pretty busy person and confess to finding it difficult to say no when I am asked to do something. Much of the time this is because I genuinely enjoy doing the things I am asked to do. Nonetheless, I occasionally find myself with days when I am too busy and my family and friends become concerned for me. I like to think that their concern is much more a consequence of love than the fact that I can get irritable when I'm tired. Usually their concern results in them offering me help with the tasks I have undertaken and there can be no doubt whatsoever that I could achieve only a small proportion of what I do without that help; especially the help given by my wife Pauline.
From time to time, their concern manifests itself in an encouragement for me not to do the work I have agreed to do. They can see that when I may have to work very long hours and may not have the time to spend with them that we would have liked; leaving something undone might be a possible solution. A lot of the time they are right but every now and then they are wrong because they don't have enough sight of the reasons that the work must be done or the impact that it will have if I do not do the work.