The National Catholic Review
Mark makes much use of shocking contrast as he presents the public life of Jesus, Messiah and Son of God. While Jesus pursues his life’s goal of obedience to his Father, others begin to define their relationships to him. Crowds look on him with great favor, and travel long distances to enjoy both his healing and his teaching. (In regard to this latter, there is no debate about the value of teaching; the concern of all is to find a teacher who best teaches God’s will for human living.) Demons react violently, and negatively as they acknowledge his divinity. Herodians and Pharisees want to destroy him – particularly the latter who think he blasphemes the Sabbath Tradition. In the midst of these reactions to himself, Jesus sends others to do precisely what he is doing, thereby extending the good and evil associated with himself. In this mood, Mark presents two new groups: Scribes and members of Jesus’ Nazareth family. Each has a unique role to play now.

Basically, scribes are specialists in knowing and interpreting the Law of Moses and its rich Tradition; Pharisees keep the Law and the Scribes interpret what is the Law to be kept. Given their knowledge in a state which is in principle theocratic, a certain number of Scribes are part of the 70 + 1 who make up the all-important Sanhedrin which will soon judge Jesus. The Scribes at this point in the story interpret Jesus to be a tool of Satan. They cannot deny the wonders he performs, particularly his spectacular mastery of the demonic world. Again, we note that Jesus does not simply overpower the demons, but he commands and they obey him. What is most striking about Jesus’ exorcisms is that they are done simply by a word. First we note that Jesus argues and cogently. His logic is unassailable, for Satan would never destroy what he attempts to build. Only a stronger than Satan can destroy Satan’s work, and Jesus is this stronger one. The Scribes have badly explained Jesus. Further, they implicitly declare that the Spirit of God is not in Jesus (contrary to Jesus’ baptismal experience). If one attributes to Satan the Spirit’s work of exorcism, one has committed an offense which is unpardonable, for one will never know the truth which would lead to repentance and forgiveness.

The family of Jesus, from hearsay, thinks that Jesus is, in a word, mad. It is by no means stated or implied that Mary thinks this way, but she does accompany other family members who come from Nazareth to speak with Jesus – about what is never said. Clearly, much of the family of Jesus does not understand him, as Chapter 6 will later show. Their coming to him, which originated in some thinking Jesus was out of his mind, yields to a teaching from Jesus. We never learn from Mark if Jesus did speak with him mother and relatives; is it likely that he refused them? Mark fixes on Jesus’ understanding of his baptismal experience. Jesus is to preach repentance. This being so, the object of his interest now is not family, but all who need repentance. Again it is obedience to his Father that defines the mindset of Jesus, defines who he now is in every circumstance of his public life. There is no question here of love or no of his family. The only question is what will deflect Jesus from carrying out his Father’s will – and that answer is: nothing.

Two new groups cross Jesus’ path and interpret him; it is time to explain misunderstanding.

John Kilgallen, S.J.