Speaking of Jesus: His Family

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 3:21

When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Mark 3:21, niv

What did Jesus’ family members have to say about Him? That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? These are brothers and sisters who grew up in the same home, cousins or other relatives who knew Him well. What did they think of His ministry? How did the things He said and did affect them?

What I’m going to read to you now may come as something of a surprise, even a shock. It’s the sort of thing you wouldn’t expect to find in one of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If I had been planning one of those books and had desired, as those writers did, to lead others to believe in this Jesus, I wonder if I would have included this passage. It’s too unsettling. It raises too many questions. But here it is in the Gospel According to Mark, one of the evidences that this is an authentic, reliable witness.

I’m reading from the third chapter of Mark, beginning at verse 20: “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, `He is out of his mind.’” Yes, you heard it right. That’s what they said: “He is out of his mind.”


Let’s look at what’s happening here. Let’s see if we can understand why Jesus’ family members might have said such a thing. All we are told in this passage is that when Jesus was in a home (perhaps the one in Capernaum that belonged to Simon and Andrew), people thronged around Him. The pressure was so great, the demands so many, that Jesus and His followers, we read, “were not even able to eat.” That’s the report Jesus’ siblings and relatives heard.

They knew that His ministry was creating a sensation in Galilee: all these crowds, all these needy people, all these reports of miraculous healing and deliverance. That was exciting to His immediate family but also disturbing. What had gotten into Him? What was He doing out there? This didn’t seem to them like the Jesus with whom they had been familiar. There was so much publicity and so much controversy. What did it mean? Had Jesus changed? Had all of this attention somehow gone to His head?

When they heard the news that He and His disciples were so beset by the crowds that they weren’t even able to eat, the family became even more anxious. Jesus, apparently, was so caught up in this new movement, whatever it was, that He was forgetting about His basic needs. He wasn’t taking care of Himself. This surely wasn’t normal. Jesus had never acted like that before. The whole situation began to seem ominous to His loved ones. They decided without delay to do something about it. They went out after Him, intent on bringing Him back home, even if they had to carry Him off bodily. They were that concerned. Intervention seemed to them an urgent necessity in this case. They feared, “He’s out of his mind.”

I’ve tried to think of other things in the life and ministry of Jesus that might have given people this impression. For one, there was a tremendous sense of intensity about Him, a burning sense of mission. He talked about having to go to Jerusalem and how He must suffer there. He wouldn’t let Himself be dissuaded from that. He had a cup to drink, He said, a baptism to be baptized with and He was constrained until it should all be accomplished. He talked mysteriously about His destiny. That must have impressed some people as strange.

Then there was His urgent drive to minister, to do good, “[I] must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day,” He said. “Night comes, when no one can work” (John 9:4). He moved on from city to city preaching. He spent long, draining hours in ministry to all kinds of human need. In the course of His ministry, He went also to visit the most despised people of His day. He ate with social outcasts, even reached out to touch people who were unclean through leprosy. No one had ever done that kind of thing before. And so people reacted to Him in the most extreme ways. Many of Israel’s most respected citizens were scandalized by the way He acted. What was behind it? What kept driving Jesus on?

Then there were the stupendous claims He made about Himself, “Before Abraham was, I am (John 8:58) … All authority in heaven and on earth has been give to me (Matt. 28:18) … Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). What man in his right mind would ever say things like that?

The word His family members used to describe His condition is the root from which we get our word ecstasy, which means “a standing outside.” Someone in ecstasy is so carried away, so transported, we say, as to be beyond reason and control. Jesus’ family members feared that they couldn’t talk sense to Him any longer, that He wouldn’t listen to reason, wouldn’t let His activities be curbed. They felt that they needed to take drastic measures. Someone had to take charge of Jesus’ life before He went to pieces altogether!


What does this tell us about these family members who said of Jesus, “He is out of his mind,” and who determined, therefore, to rescue Him? On the positive side, it certainly demonstrates their concern. They cared about Him. After all, He was one of their own. They were apprehensive that He might be headed for trouble. They sensed danger in the circumstances they saw developing and they cared too much to ignore it, simply to look the other way. In their eyes, Jesus needed help, and they felt a keen sense of responsibility for Him. If they didn’t go to Him, if they didn’t do what they could to bring Him to His senses, who would? They were “family.”

We would have to say also that their intentions were good. They felt that if they could get Him back home and have Him under their care, He might be all right again. They planned to use whatever force was necessary to get Him there. They were persuaded that it was all for His benefit. What could be better than rescuing someone you love from a bad situation? Let’s give them due credit: caring hearts and the best of intentions.

Still, it’s obvious that they didn’t understand. They showed no awareness of His vision, no appreciation of His heart for people. Though they had grown up with Jesus, it was evident that they didn’t really know Him. Imagine branding His zeal, His self-giving love, His passion to do God’s will, as a kind of madness! True, it wasn’t the same hostile charge that some of Jesus’ enemies had made, that He was actually in league with the powers of evil. His loved ones didn’t accuse Jesus of malice. On the contrary, they thought He was carrying benevolence, concern for others, to an unhealthy extreme.

Most grievously, they didn’t believe. They didn’t take His claims about Himself seriously. They seemed unable to see how powerfully God was at work in Jesus’ life and ministry. They missed it. They took a merely human perspective on the situation. It’s expressly said of His brothers on another occasion that they did not believe in Him. They seemed to dismiss what they couldn’t fully understand about Him, refusing to trust even in the face of strong evidence. On another occasion, Jesus had this to say about them: “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house” (Matt. 13:57). How it must have wounded Him that these His family members would not follow Him, even called Him insane!


What do you think? Were these relatives right in their assessment? We can easily understand how they must have felt. There was no doubt that what was going on around Jesus was extraordinary. It had to be accounted for in some way. Either you had to say, as the Pharisees did, that He did all these things by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, or you had to say as others did, that He was the Son of God. On the other hand, perhaps He was mentally unbalanced. King Herod said about Jesus that He was John the Baptist come back from the dead. Others called Him a troublemaker who led people astray. Try to imagine for a moment what kind of life and ministry that of Jesus must have been, that it should call forth such strong, diverse reactions!

The fact, the reality of it, was undeniable. He was doing amazing things. He was speaking as no man had ever spoken before. There had to be some way of accounting for all of this. And, for those who had known Him in His growing up years, the transformation seemed unaccountable. He was so different. That’s what troubled them. They knew that they hadn’t changed. They were all right, they thought. But things were happening in His life that couldn’t be explained from His background and upbringing. Something had to be wrong. Can you tune in to what they were feeling? Do you think they could have been right? Was He “out of His mind”?

He didn’t act according to conventional wisdom – that was certain. He wasn’t like the ordinary religious teachers of His day. He didn’t line up with the interests of any particular group within Israel. He repeatedly said things that made important people furious and acted in ways that left others plotting how to get rid of Him.

His zeal for God and the astonishing acceptance He showed toward scorned and rejected people were unusual, to say the least. It’s interesting, though, that this sort of thing should be interpreted as insanity. We don’t marvel at the fervor which people show in other pursuits, do we? Here’s someone caught up passionately in the pursuit of wealth. Who calls him or her unbalanced? When people are carried away in some amorous intrigue or when they throw themselves with abandon into a revolutionary cause, we don’t tend to question their sanity, do we? Watch them as they go into the wildest of contortions as performers. We admire such people, see them as talented and shrewd. We don’t call them crazy. Is Jesus out of His mind because He cares so much, because all His thoughts are centered in the Father’s name and kingdom and will? Or is the very opposite true? Isn’t the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom? Isn’t having God in all our thoughts the highest kind of sanity? Again, what about this matter of control? Jesus’ family members were disturbed because He sometimes didn’t go along with their advice. Once before at a Jerusalem feast, His brothers had said to Him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing” (John 7:3). But Jesus had responded, “My time has not yet come” (John 7:6). Once when His mother told Him at the wedding in Cana of Galilee that there was no wine, He answered, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). When people, even well-meaning people close to Him, tried to remonstrate with Him against going to Jerusalem, tried to rescue Him or tell Him what to do, He was notably unmoved. Did this show that He was out of His mind, beyond control? Or did it evidence control of a higher kind? Was Jesus marching to a different drum, listening to another voice, bowing to a supreme authority? That’s what He had said, wasn’t it? “My meat is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). “As the Father gave me commandment, even so I do” (John 14:31).

Was He, as His family members feared, out of touch with reality? Living in a dream world? Dangerously disconnected? Or was He more in touch with the Real than anyone had ever been before – walking in unclouded fellowship with God, His Father in heaven?

Here, as with other sayings he quotes about Jesus, Mark doesn’t stop to give us an answer. He simply writes down in the course of the narrative what various people said. He doesn’t presume to tell us whether they were right or wrong, wise or foolish, righteous or wicked. In each case he lets us draw our own conclusions.

But I should tell you one more thing about these family members of Jesus. A time came, after He had been crucified and raised from the dead on the third day, that they felt differently about Him. Some of Jesus’ brothers were in that group of believers who gathered in the Upper Room, who experienced the marvelous outpouring of God’s power on Pentecost. One of them, a brother named James, wrote a letter in which he spoke of Jesus as the “Lord of glory.” He quoted frequently what Jesus had said. Somewhere along the line, he and the others came to realize that what had seemed like foolishness in Jesus’ teaching was really the wisdom of God, that the fiery zeal driving Him on had been kindled in heaven. The same family members who once were ready to institutionalize Jesus, as it were, later came to worship Him as Lord over all and to see His ministry as God’s last, best word to the world. What a change of outlook!

I don’t know, of course, what you may have thought about Jesus in the past, what explanations you have given of His unique life and ministry. But wherever you are on that right now, I pray that you will come to share the faith of His family members, that you like them will come to see Him in a new light and become one of His devoted followers. May it be so!