Summary: Jesus declares what constitutes his true family... those who do God's will... enabled through His cross-work for both Jew and Gentile
“The time has come,” Jesus said, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15)
That was Jesus’ great announcement that is at the start of Mark’s gospel, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. But what does the kingdom of God look like? What is its concrete reality?
Israel had these markers: land, temple, king, ancestry, and the Law, that marked them out as YHWH’s royal priesthood, His holy nation, the family belonging to God.
To hear the words: “The kingdom of God has come near” would be to expect the restoration of the king, the rededication of the temple, the liberation of the land from foreign rule, the implementation of the Law, and the archiving of proper census results as to people’s ancestry and claims on inheritance.
Abraham as the father of the nation was celebrated, not so much the fact that he was father of many nations. It would take Paul to map that out.
Here, at the start of a new section in Mark’s gospel, a section running from 3:7 through to 6:13, we have the flip of John 8. We have Jesus’ opponents labelling him as belonging to the household of the satan (Mark 3:22-27), and Jesus declaring in his actions that he is inaugurating a new family around himself that is the fulfilment of the covenant promises to Abraham. The radical appointing of the Twelve in bandit territory was a revolutionary act, that God’s kingdom had come near, and God’s family was being defined in different terms than ancestral links to Jacob’s/Israel’s children.
So, our reading was from 3:7 to 3:35, but we’re going to skim over the introductory chunk of v.7-12, that has this stormy scene at the edge of the lake where waves of people and demons crash around Jesus, seeking to take control of him and his agenda. In those verses we see again the theme of the Messianic secret cropping up.
But this section of Mark’s gospel really gets going with Jesus appointing the Twelve to be with him in the face of an underlying and growing hostility. The purpose sentence in 3:14,15 is fulfilled in 6:7-13 when Jesus sends out the Twelve to preach and drive out demons in His name.
The naming of the Twelve is striking in a number of ways - firstly, in juxtaposition to Jesus mother and half-brothers, and, secondly, in relation to the Old Testament lists of names.
Jesus’ mother and half-brothers are un-named, standing outside, mistaking Jesus’ identity, words and actions. The disciples are named, called to be with Jesus, involved in his life and ministry of doing God’s will.
In regard to the Old Testament lists of names, many people wonder what on earth they are doing in Scripture. There aren’t many sermons on Genesis chapter 10, or Numbers chapter 1, or Ezra chapter 2 or Nehemiah chapter 7. But these lists of names serve a specific purpose to concretise the fulfilment of God’s covenant promises. The fulfilment of God’s promise of fruitfulness to Noah that his descendants would fill the earth. The fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham to rescue his descendants from Egypt given in Genesis 15:13,14. The fulfilment of God’s promises to the prophets to bring the people back from exile.
Here, this list of names, including the brothers, Simon and Andrew, the sons of Zebedee (James and John), and the sons of Alphaeus (Matthew/Levi & James), serves as a clear declaration in Scripture of the concrete reality that God is fulfilling His promises in and through the Twelve, somehow becoming the true family of God, that the Twelve Tribes only pointed forward to.
It’s quite an embarrassing fact to have it stated that the mother of Jesus, along with his half-brothers tried to stop Jesus’ work because they thought he was mad. If you were making things up you would definitely want to avoid this kind of talk, but it’s one of those features that gives us confidence that the gospel writers were faithful to what happened even if it was embarrassing.
This whole episode is massively shocking, and I think we too easily miss the shock of what’s going on here. We miss the revolutionary, subversive nature of Jesus’ retreat into the wilderness of the mountains – up a mountain, alluding to key moments in history, like Moses and Abraham - to inaugurate a new Nation, a new Twelve. We miss the culturally seismic declaration of Jesus in ignoring his family and declaring what constitutes his true family.
Having said that, let’s remember that Jesus doesn’t shirk from his responsibility to respect and care for his mother, even through the pain of crucifixion he makes sure she is not abandoned. (John 19:26,27). But if you come from a more individualistic culture like the UK, you might miss the shock of Jesus’ words and actions in regard to his family in Mark 3.