Wednesday, March 25, 2015

“Whoever does the will of God”: Mark’s Understanding of Jesus’ True Family

Compared to Matthew and Luke, Mark has little to say about Jesus’ natural family. Indeed, perhaps one of the most glaring omissions from Mark, or, depending on how you see it, additions by the other two, is any reference to Jesus’ birth or childhood. Mark seems unconcerned about Jesus’ natural family, and instead, defines Jesus family quite differently.
There is one reference to Jesus’ natural family in Mark 3:31-35, which can be viewed as negative remarks against his family. Certainly, one cannot perceive a very positive view from Jesus’ words about his family, but we might take Jesus’ statement as implicating more about who he sees as his true family than about his mother and brothers, although there is definitely criticism of the latter. In other words, while Jesus’ words offer a negative portrayal of his family, Mark uses this as a transition to define the true family of Jesus.

By defining his true family as “whoever does the will of God” Jesus designates his disciples, who he just called in 3:13-19, as those who are a part of the family of God. The Markan audience by this point in the narrative understands that Jesus’ relationship to God is one of son (u(io/j) and father (path/r). By declaring that those who do the will of God are his brothers, sisters, and mother, Jesus implies that those who are faithful to God are part of the family of God. 
It is indeed peculiar that father (path/r) is absent from the list of family members that Jesus gives in 3:35. Might this be a way to imply reference to God as the one who is the father of Jesus? If so, then those who do the will of God find a father in Jesus’ own relationship to God as father. But this relationship is only possible through the relationship that followers have with Jesus as the Son. Thus, the relationship between those who do the will of God with the God who is father of Jesus is a derivative relationship; one which comes through both parties being in relation to Jesus (Cf. Jesus’ statement in 9:37).
Moreover, when we understand this saying within the narrative span of Mark, we understand that “doing the will of God” in Mark may cause one to be rejected by family (6:1-6; 13:12-13), thus producing an absence of familial relationships and community. The God of Jesus who extends relations to those who do the will of God, however, fills this void, by stepping in as the father. Thus Jesus’ saying is not primarily a polemical statement against his own family, but more an extension of who comprises his family.
Of significance at this point are the words of the Markan Jesus, “whoever does the will of God” (3:35). By moving from a reference to those seated around him as the ones who constitute his family, to including “whoever” does the will of God, the Markan Jesus addresses the audience of Mark through the text and includes them in the family of God. This “whoever” reference, while setting limits around those who are in relationship to God, reaches beyond other limits of exclusion and opens the path of relationship to anyone who chooses to do the will of God.
This idea is further expressed in Mark by way of Jesus’ words to the disciples regarding leaving family or being abandoned by family. In 10:28-31, Jesus responds to the concern Peter expresses regarding the disciples having left all to follow him. Jesus’ response, again, deals with the issue of family, as he assures Peter that those who have left family and possessions for his sake and the sake of the gospel will be rewarded for their faithfulness. Again, Jesus extends this to more than the disciples via his use of “no one” (o)udei/j). There is “no one,” then, who leaves all for his sake and the sake of the gospel he preaches who will not receive just reward. 
The giver of this eschatological reward of eternal life is God. That which disciples will receive in this age, “households and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields,” suggests a replacement of the natural kinship with a fictive kinship over which God takes the role as father. Again, the absence of father (path/r) in v30, when it is present in v29, intimates to the audience that the God of Jesus stands as the true father of Jesus’ family. 
In 13:9-13, Mark’s audience once again hears Jesus speak of family relations. There is no subject linked to the passive verb translated as “handed over” in v9, and thus Mark may intend a general “they will hand you over.” However, within the context, when brother, father, and children are mentioned as betraying their family members, Mark may be more directly connecting those who will hand over the followers of Jesus with their family members.
The participatory nature of discipleship communicated in Mark is here brought to the fore of the minds of those who would seek to live as Jesus lives, for it implies that their fates are similar. As Jesus will be handed over (9:31; 10:33; and John in 1:14), so also those who identify with him will be handed over. What is tragic is the fact that this handing over will be carried out by the families of those disciples. But Jesus’ words of prophecy do not end in doom, as he also gives hope to those who live faithfully by remaining true to the good news. 
Those who do will be “saved” (swqh/setai), a passive verb indicating God’s actions in saving those who remain faithful. Again, the proximity of Jesus’ words about the natural family of the disciples, to the words of eschatological salvation given by God to those who remain faithful, indicate to the hearers, including the Markan audience, that as the father of Jesus will be faithful to vindicate him, so also the father of the disciples will be faithful to save them.
For Mark, then, blood kinship is replaced by a new family consisting of those who do the will of God, and over which God is paterfamilias.

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