Mark 3:21 reports a strange thing in the life of Jesus: “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”
When they heard about what?
There are two triggers for the actions of Jesus’ family. (We learn from Mark 3:31 that the family probably consisted of “Jesus’ mother and brothers.”) The immediate trigger is that Jesus “entered a house” (Mark 3:20). What was so remarkable about this? The Greek could contain implications of “came home.” Because of the press of the crowds that were following Him, Jesus had been out in the mountains and the wilderness. His family would not have known where to find Him. However, now that He had come back — if not to His home, at least to a house nearby — His family finally saw an opportunity to take control of Him.
Beyond the immediate trigger stood the real reason for the family’s actions. This reason was Jesus’ remarkable claim to be the Messiah, to be able to heal people and to cast out demons. This claim had become concrete when He had appointed His apostles as the first step in setting up the new Kingdom of Israel.
Jesus’ family wanted to take control of Him because they didn’t believe His claims and thus thought Him to be insane.
Mary had been a witness to the virgin birth and all of the remarkable events around that but didn’t seem to understand that Jesus was divine. Perhaps she thought that He would be a prophet like Samuel or Samson. But when, at age twelve, He had stayed behind in the temple to get involved in His Father’s business (Luke 2:49), she didn’t understand. She might not have understood who He was saying His Father was.
Mary had expected Jesus to do something at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11), but again perhaps she was still only thinking of Him as a prophet.
What is also remarkable about this passage in Mark (and the parallel passages in Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 8:19-21) is that Jesus apparently refused to see His family. They asked Him to come out of the house, but there is no record of Him coming out and talking to them, or of Him inviting them in. Perhaps they were too intimidated to try to seize Jesus in the middle of the crowd of followers and went away. Indeed, there is no record of Jesus’ family ever being near Him again throughout His entire earthly ministry. When Jesus preached in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30, Mark 6:1-6), there is no record of His family being present.
Instead of welcoming His family, Jesus used the occasion to make a point. He said that the real members of His family were the people who did God’s will (just as the true Israel are the people who love God, not the literal descendants of Israel: Romans 9:6-8, Luke 3:8). What Jesus was saying is that love of God has priority over love of family and all other relationships (Matthew 10:37, 19:29, Luke 14:26). Jesus commands us and enables us to love our families, but without Jesus we can’t love our families. Jesus must come first. Jesus said the greatest command was to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the second was to love others as ourselves (Mark 12:28-31). When we try to reverse that, we often end up loving no one.