Even Mary did not understand Jesus’ ministry. How hurtful it must have been to disappoint her, and how lonely, but he knew his mission and remained focused.
Mary knew Jesus was uniquely chosen. Even by the time he was a toddler, there was much that she pondered in her heart. The words of Simeon and the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:25-38), the visit of the Magi . . . Yet, there was no precedent, and she was living in the midst of the story, not reading it or knowing how it was to unfold.
Likewise Jesus’ siblings might have perceived something different in him as they played together or as they learned their father’s carpentry trade. But no one really understood. They did not perceive him as “without sin” or as “anointed,” and when he began his ministry, they did not see God in his teachings.
They were embarrassed by him. He had been raised in the Jewish tradition, regularly attending synagogue, but crowds were gathering to hear him question the religious authorities. Rather than reiterating their judgments against sinners, he presented a message of love and forgiveness. He challenged their legalism by healing on the Sabbath; and his anger was not provoked by those who broke the long Jewish list of sins, but by those who self-righteously used their authority to judge others. The religious laws called for the woman caught in adultery to be stoned (but not the man); yet Jesus questioned not her, but those who held the stones.
“What is he doing?” his family must have asked each other. “Our brother surely is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:21) He was becoming not only an embarrassment, but a danger to himself, angering the authorities to the point of wishing him dead (Mark 3: 6). “The demons have possessed him,” the Jewish authorities were saying, because his teachings were not like theirs. (Mark 3: 22)
So his family went to step in. Mary and his brothers. Jesus and his followers had entered a house to eat, but they were unable to eat because of the crowds that gathered around him. His family heard the stories and went to take charge of him (Mark 3:20-21). Unable to get inside the house, they sent someone to tell Jesus they were there to see him. “Who is my family?” he responded. “These people gathered around me are my family. Those who do God’s will.” (Mark 3:34)
Good intentions were not enough. Jesus’ mother and brothers were a deterrent to his mission. Just as later Jesus’ rebuke of Peter to “get thee behind me, Satan” (Matt. 16:23) was not a lack of love toward Peter, but an acknowledgement that even one’s closest relationships, perhaps especially one’s closest relationships, can get in the way of following God’s plan.
Surely Jesus loved his family. We see his love for Mary even at his death, as he lovingly turns her care over to John. “Mother, behold your son. Son, behold your mother” (John 19:26-27). Yet, as painful as it must have been emotionally, he had to separate himself from them, for they did not understand. No doubt they meant well, but their lack of understanding was a hindrance to his very purpose for living; and had he chosen to be the perfectly obedient son and brother, the perfectly legalistic synagogue leader, the one who made his family proud and pleased the religious authorities, we would never have heard his name, and his life would not have revolutionized the world.
Where are we in this story? Are we following the Church’s teachings more closely than we follow Jesus’ teachings? Are we reading the Gospels at home, to know the difference? Are we hindering those who are praying alone with sweat drops of agony, striving to follow God despite our opposition? God, forgive us, if so, for we mean well and know not what we do.
Kathy Vestal is a college educator in Salisbury, NC. She has a Master’s of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master’s of Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. An avid writer, gifted teacher, and occasional public speaker/preacher, her passions include civil rights, social justice, church reform, and education. She has traveled to Mexico, Honduras, Argentina, Ecuador, and The Gambia, Africa, and enjoys reading, nature, and history.