One of the disadvantages of reading the scriptures parceled out as they are in our daily Mass lectionary is that we can lose sight of the larger picture an evangelist like Mark is painting. He starts Jesus’ ministry with the cure of a possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum and then Jesus cures Peter’s mother in law and that brings crowds of local people to Peter’s house.
Mark’s narrative is quick and excited. They go to other towns in Galilee, and by the 3rd chapter of Mark, when Jesus returns home to Peter’s house, he’s followed by “a large number of people from Galilee and from Judea. Hearing what he was doing, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon.”
They’re not the only ones following him now. The scribes have come from Jerusalem, who say he has a demon, and the Pharisees go to plot with the Herodians about putting him to death. And they hear about him in Nazareth; his relatives say, “No, he doesn’t have a demon. He may be out of his mind,” and they come to bring him home. Mark wants us to see the mother of Jesus and his brothers pushing through this noisy, confused crowd as they arrive at the house to bring him home. “Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him. A crowd seated around him told him, “Your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside asking for you.” But he said to them in reply, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3,31-35) Just a small circle of believers were seated around him then.
Some commentators describe Mark’s gospel as a Passion Narrative with a prelude. In other words, the early stories in Mark’s gospel announce the last story of his Passion and Death and Resurrection. Also, they see Mark’s gospel written to help the Christians of Rome who suffered a brutal, surprising persecution by Nero in the mid 60s. It was an awful persecution, senseless, arbitrary. It left them confused and wondering what did this all mean? So, even in Mark’s account of Jesus’ early ministry there’s an atmosphere of confusion and lack of understanding that was found during his Passion.
Not only do the Jewish leaders and scholars misunderstand him, not only do the crowds not understand, but his own family can’t grasp what’s happening. It’s too much for them. The Passion of our Lord is not something we easily understand, Mark’s gospel reminds us, no matter how long we look at it. It’s not easy to enter the circle of believers. But we have to keep following him. Like Mary and others from his family we have to keep going back until, like them, we finally understand. Only after Jesus dies in Mark’s Passion Narrative do you hear a word of understanding; that’s when the Roman centurion cries our, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”