Mark 3:20-35 - Jesus’ Source of Power & Family Values
3:20and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” 31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Context: Opposition is gathering against Jesus and his teaching. He has returned ‘home’, probably to the house of Simon in Capernaum. The problem is that he is ministering with such power as a healer and exorcist. In this passage we see two groups of people who respond to Jesus by trying to stop his ministry. The first group is his family. They think he has gone insane. The second is the Jerusalem religious hierarchy, ‘the home office’. They respond by claiming that his power is from the devil. This may seems shocking to us, but it is not uncommon today to claim that threats to our status quo or theological feelings are caused by the devil or lack of faith.
The Unpardonable Sin: Many sensitive souls throughout the ages have pondered and worried about the unpardonable sin. The very fact of being worried or even curious about it is an indication that one has not committed it. The unpardonable sin, in this case is the assigning of the power of God to the Evil One. It is not a matter of doing that once or even many times in error or doubt. The Greek makes it clear that this sin is a callous and fixed attitude of mind that prevails over a long time. It is a repeated, fixed, habitual, unchanging attitude that claims that good is evil, that love is hate and in so doing sees no need for forgiveness and therefore is deaf to the promptings of the Spirit. Only those who set themselves against forgiveness don’t get it.
Family in Biblical Times: To understand this passage we have to understand the nature of families in Biblical times, how they operated and their values. Families were not, first and foremost, affiliation groups. They were economic partnerships. Their primary function was to ensure physical survival and the survival of the religious system through the procreation of children. Polygamy for men was common in the Old Testament, accepted and blessed by God. Divorce was also common. Only men could file for divorce and they could do so for almost any reason. One of the most popular reasons for divorce was barrenness. Another was consistently burning the bread. Often, if a man found his wife to become unsuitable, he would simply take another. However, if he could not afford to keep more than one wife, he would divorce the one and take the other. Women did not have the option to choose divorce, nor were there many protections for divorced women (or widows for that matter) in the Law. They were dispensable. Adultery was forbidden. This however was not so much seen as a violation of the sacred relationship between husband and wife as it was a property dispute. Adultery was the violation of another man’s property. It also left paternity open to dispute, which could mean economic disaster. Most of Jesus’ teaching on divorce seems very strict to our ears, but these teachings were attempts to provide for some equity for women and to ensure that they could not just be set aside and therefore doomed to a life of poverty and slow death, (except of course for adultery.) The structure of family life was rigid and hierarchical. Parents were to be respected and obeyed. This was, in part, a reaction to elder abuse in surrounding cultures, but mostly grew from a belief that longevity was a sign of God’s favor and wisdom. Family was also about race, keeping the bloodlines pure. People were ordinarily included or excluded based on whether or not they were descendants of one of the 12 tribes of Israel. It was the extended family unit, clan or tribe in the Old Testament, the faith community in the New Testament, that carried out many of the roles of “nuclear families” today. The community played a role in child rearing and religious education, for example. This is not to say that romantic love played no role in the Bible. There are beautiful love songs scattered throughout Scripture, but marriages were arranged by fathers and romantic love was not always a consideration.
Vs. 20 – came together – like to form a band or posse, to pursue or chase.
Vs. 21 – family – his blood relatives
They went – They thought this was a serious enough matter to make the 30 mile walk from Nazareth to Capernaum where Jesus was probably at Simon’s house.
To restrain him – literally ‘to take charge of him by force.’ This word is sometimes translated as ‘arrest.’
He has gone out of his mind – literally ‘he is standing outside himself,’ like we use the phrase ‘beside himself.’ It is sometimes used of eccentrics, but with the previous verb it clearly means ‘insane.’ They thought that he had been stricken with some kind of religiously induced mental illness.
Vs. 22 – came down – even though Capernaum was north of Jerusalem, they would have come down because Jerusalem is at 2400’ above sea level. Capernaum is about 600’.
Beelzebul – a Canaanite divine name. Here used to refer to the Prince of Demons. Related to Beelzebub, a Philistine idol mentioned in II Kings who was known as the Lord of the Flies or the Lord of Dung. Not a nice guy.
Vs. 23 – he called them to him – the scribes did not confront him directly. They had to be summoned to him.
Vs. 27 – strong man – This refers most probably to Satan.
Vs. 29 – blasphemy – to speak falsehoods about God. Ironically this is the charge that leads to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Vs. 30 – he said – The tense implies kept on saying repeatedly with a callous and fixed mind.
Standing - lit. standing firm, rooted planted. This is the word in Greek that lets us know for sure that this was not just a friendly visit.
Outside - from the word for outsiders. This is further evidence that Jesus’ family was not simply concerned for his health and safety. They were, at this point in the story, standing in opposition
Vs. 32 - sitting - This is the position taken by students in a formal teaching situation. Jesus is teaching a class.
Asking - This word is often translated as seeking, deliberating, demanding, requiring, searching, looking for, inquiring.
Vs. 34 - looking - This is a word Mark uses often. It is a kind of sweeping gaze that takes in everything and implies a seeing of the big picture.
Those who sat - On the surface this obviously refers to the disciples. With the “sweeping gaze” word it also takes the audience to include not only those early learners, but us as well.
Vs. 35 - does - This word carries the additional connotation of accomplish or make happen.
Will - This refers to God’s desires.
Questions for Personal Reflection
1. What are some Godly things that might seem crazy in today’s world? If Jesus were around today, doing the things he did in updated form, what might we see him do?
2. Have you seen the logic of Jesus’ teaching about a house divided work itself out in contemporary life?
3. What would you say are the major components of “God’s will”? How do you know when you are doing God’s will?
4. What do you think it means to be a part of Jesus’ family? What kind of relationship does that imply?
5. How does this text reinterpret family in the culture in which Jesus lived? What would have been most surprising about his statement to his hearers?
6. When you hear the phrase “family values” on the news, what do you think is meant by that? Do you think that Jesus would find those things consistent with what he indicated were his family values? If so, how so? If not, how not?