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Did Jesus Ignore Mary to Protect Her?

Mark establishes Capernaum as Jesus' base of operations before telling us (3:20) he "came home". Then (3:31) his family tries to get to him through the (obviously, local) crowd. And Jesus says, "Who is my mother?..." (FYI - in harmonized chronologies, no other Gospel event occurs between these two points.) Now, to conisder this historically...

This is one year into Jesus' ministry, just after appointing the twelve, and he'd already had a year of experience visiting Capernaum, where he'd moved the whole family (except for his grown, married sisters, who stayed in Nazareth). At this point, Jesus had probably begun to see signs of the unrepentance that eventually got Capernaum put onto his 'denunciation list'. But whether Jesus was predicting this already or just preparing himself for the likelihood of it - either way - he must have been concerned that anti-repentant townspeople could resent Him in their own secret shame and take it out on his family in various ways, with social hostility being perhaps the least of his potential concerns.

Putting all that together, it seems Jesus was actually protecting Mary by so clearly and publicly distancing himself from the family in their new home town. This doesn't change the fact that his words were true and the point he made absolutely remains valid in its own right, but it does take some of the coldness and sting out of his words, at least for us, in retrospect.

(***Is that what Mark intended us to think? Probably not. But if we take the event to be truly historical, our considerations are not necessarily bound by points Mark was trying to make in his particular composition. We are reconstructing events for their own sake.***)

7 comments:

Peter Kirk said...

Have you established why and how the family moved from Nazareth to Capernaum? I remember studying this at Bible college, from Mark. I remember suggesting, but not proving, that after Joseph's death and perhaps after Jesus' rejection at Nazareth, they moved to be near Mary's relative Zebedee, who was prosperous enough to have hired workers (1:20). I then suggested that the house in 3:19ff was their family house, very likely built by Jesus and his brothers with their own hands. I see that you agree with me that in 3:31 the mother and brothers haven't just arrived on a visit from Nazareth. See also John 2:12, where the "few days" may not be intended to imply a return to Nazareth.

Bill said...

Don't think I've done a whole post on it. Probably should, eh? ;)

In brief:

The Nazarenes speak only of the sisters as presently with them, when Jesus visits (Mt.13:55-56 & Mk 6:3).

The Capernaum Jews speak of having known Joseph and Mary for some time (Jn.6:42).

Jesus' brothers tease him immediately after that episode (Jn.7:3) which I admit merely suggests Capernaum, but there is no other specific location offered at that point.

Aside from that, which really should be enough, it just makes perfect sense. At the time of the wedding at Cana, Jesus was preparing to go down to Jerusalem and make much controversy. All his hometown friends would be there to see or hear of it. More importantly, Mary's lifelong community was about to side violently against her son.

So as I see it, Jesus didn't even need divine prophesy to forsee trouble coming if Mary stayed in Nazareth. The move was pre-emptive and merciful.

Regarding John 2:12, Cana was just over the hill on the road from Nazareth to Capernaum. In the context of all the above, John's "few days" suggests only that they moved just prior to the Passover. (On which timing, see above.)

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Out of curiosity, Peter, how did you get Mary as a relative of Zebidee? But on Joseph's advanced age and the general dearth of mobility in ancient lifestyles, it's a far stretch to suppose the Capernaum Jews would speak of him as they did, had he still been a Nazarene.

The house in Mark 3:19 could be anyone's. Most likely, they found a "person of peace" hosted them, as Jesus taught his disciples. But if the house was his family house, why weren't Mary & the brothers already there?

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What do you think now? :-)

Peter Kirk said...

More specifically, it is thought that Zebedee's wife (Salome?) was Mary's sister, from comparing Matthew 27:56, Mark 16:1 and John 19:25. If this is true, in that culture Zebedee might have become Mary's formal guardian after Joseph died - and John might have inherited the role when Zebedee and Jesus died, giving a different twist to John 19:26-27. But the identities of the women present at the cross and at the Resurrection are another can of worms for you to look at some time.

The answer to your final question is in 3:20-21. Jesus was in the house. His family went out "to seize him", i.e. perhaps to find someone with authority to arrest him. In verse 31 they return, but can't get into the house. There is an interesting verbal link between exeste "he is outside [of his mind]" in v.21 and exo stekontes "standing outside" in v.31 - the issue is, who are the real outsiders?

Bill said...

Fascinating. I never noticed or heard that about Mary's sister. Thank you. (Still doesn't change Joseph's living presence in Capernaum, though.)

If the house in Mark 3 is Jesus' family home, your (also fascinating) explanation could explain the positioning. Still, given his popularity at the moment it could have been anyone's home; and given his anti-family speech, it was more likely not theirs.

The 'exeste' and 'exo' would have the same import in any domicile, would it not?

Peter Kirk said...

More thoughts related to this, from John 2. In 2:1 there is a distinction between Mary already being in Cana but Jesus and his disciples being invited. Then in 2:12 after the wedding Mary, Jesus, his brothers and his disciples go to Capernaum. Does this imply that Mary, and perhaps Jesus' brothers, were already living in Cana, rather than Nazareth?

At the wedding Mary seems in a position to give orders to the servants. Does that imply that she is the host at the wedding, or closely related to the host? If so, is this the wedding of one of her children, a son or a daughter? Does it take place at the family house, which Jesus has already left? To answer this one would probably need to know more than I do about marriage customs in those days - but then the NIV Study Bible note suggests that no one knows much more.

Bill said...

Thanks for keeping up with this one, Peter. Are you suggesting something about the grammar or sentence structure suggests Mary was "in Cana" not just [at] the wedding? I'm not sure if that's what you mean.

The juxtaposition of Cana en route to Capernaum and the wedding before the move more likely means that Mary came from the south side of the hill and Jesus had to cross the river and come one full day west with his disciples. Moving once would have been traumatic enough, I'd think.

Beyond that there's no need to put Mary in Cana, and there's no need to suppose any move before Jesus became controversial. So while I really like thinking about these questions, this is a really good example of where speculation risks pointlessness. On the other hand, imagination always needs to stretch itself in unexpected directions. (!)

You've got a good point about Mary ordering servants around, but it's possible that any guest could order a servant. Or, like you said, if she was introduced to the servants as close kin to the host, that would be enough to explain it.

What I wonder is, was Mary's stuff from Nazareth packed and sitting outside the wedding? If so, on how many xUx-xHxaxuxlxsx Donkeys? ;-) Seriously, though, if v.12's "after this" is indirect, it could include a quick walk back to Nazareth, and what better time to move than with all your new friends AND your brothers?! (John didn't say the brothers were at the wedding.)

Here's another one to play with: Why were the disciples invited from so far away!? My best guess is maybe they knew the groom and Jesus knew the bride.

It's all fun, and, potentially at least, all valuable. Let's keep going...

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." Albert Einstein

Peter Kirk said...

Bill, I got back to this because I was doing a Bible study on the wedding at Cana - and because weddings are on my mind with only 36 days to go before mine.

I meant to suggest not so much that Mary was living in Cana as that she was there as part of the main wedding party, distinguished from the invited guests like Jesus.

The amount of extra wine Jesus produced, perhaps 600 litres, suggests there were a lot of guests. Not everyone would have been able to get the servants to do the time consuming job of filling all those jars, presumably with fresh spring water.

Obviously a quick walk back to Nazareth, less than five miles, after the wedding is not ruled out.