Did Jesus Redefine Kinship? Studies in Mark, Pt. 53

I do not find it unusual or surprising that Markan commentaries all say the same thing when it comes to Mk. 3.31-5. It is in those verses that Jesus, before His blood kin, points to the crowds and says, “These are my family” (paraphrase). Every commentator says of these verses, something like: “Here, Jesus is redefining kinship relations.” The same comments are made concerning Mk. 10.29-30. There, Jesus appears to be telling the people “Leave your families and God will bless you.” It is my view that Jesus is not saying that at all (I may do a post on those verses in the future).

But I wonder if we should pause and think through Mk. 3.31-5 a little more? I’m not so sure that Jesus is attempting to redefine kinship there. For starters, I don’t think He’s shunning His blood kin. Secondly, I don’t think He’s relegating them to a lower status. Thirdly, the fact that Peter (ch. 1) and Jesus (ch. 6) both return to their families in Mk. suggests to me that the Jesus Movement was not attempting to avoid or redefine familial relationships.

In Mk. 3.31-5, I think Jesus is attempting to make a point about love, not necessarily kinship. Surely, the people standing there listening to Him (including His blood kin) did not take Him literally; they did not think He was really related (by blood) to all of these people. Just as well, I don’t think they were shocked by what He was saying. If Jesus is in Jewish territory—and He may well have been given the fact that the Jewish leaders come to see Him and He is in a house about to eat—then it is not unthinkable that He could point to a crowd of Jewish people and refer to them as “family” or “kin”. Even if there were Gentiles in the crowd, I’m not so sure that people would have been floored by Jesus’ statement.

Anyway, what Jesus is not doing here is redrawing or redefining kinship. What He is doing, however, is making a point about love. More specifically, He is saying that He is choosing to love these people as if they were His literal family. When He asks the question in 3.33, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” it is more of a point than a question. He is making the point that He is choosing to love these people as if they were His blood kin. Imagine reading this passage through the eyes of an adopted child. When a kid is adopted internationally, for instance, they have no idea while they're growing up, who their blood kin really are; they don’t know them! Thus, they can ask this question that Jesus asks in a very literal sense, “Who are my mother and brothers?”

To the adopted child, “mother” and “brothers” and other family members are those that have chosen to love them; those who have chosen to love them as their own family. I think that’s what Jesus is saying here: Choosing to love is greater than loving because we are forced to. That’s why Jesus ends His teaching session by saying, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” It is a choice to enter into a reciprocal love relation; God loves us and we love Him—what a beautiful cycle!

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