Dennis Martin has suggested a few times in previous posts that I am pushing the original sin factor too hard, and he could be right. He suggests we look to the question of Mary’s sinlessness. Was she sinless? The Evangelist Mark, I will now point out, evidently thinks Mary was not sinless. Does this make a difference? If she was sinless, she becomes unique, and this could unfold in many ways; if she was not sinless, she is like us and we take her to be an example of discipleship. Where are you on this one? What role does mary play in your faith?
Before we say anything else, no one in the NT says “Mary sinned.” But this isn’t an issue, for neither does it say “Paul sinned” in so many words. So, if we are looking for that kind of evidence, the conversation is officially dried up. But, if we look at sin as anything less than God’s will, then I think we can say Mary had lapses, failures, or words like those two that describe her response to Jesus.
I begin with Mark 3:31-35 and simply call to our attention that Markan scholars all think Mark 3:20-35 is a unit, and some call it a “sandwich” structure. To keep us from getting into a “he said this” but “she said this” in a variety of commentaries, I’ll just refer to Joel Marcus, in his outstanding commentary on Mark in the Anchor Bible. I don’t have a traditionalist RC commentary on Mark, or I’d pull that off. I’ll use instead what I think is the standard traditionalist view of this passage by RCs.
Here’s Marcus’s outline:
1. Jesus’ relatives (3:20-21)
2. Charge of demonic agency (3:22-26)
3. Parable of Strong Man (3:27)
2′. Charge of demonic agency (3:28-30)
1′. Jesus’ relatives (3:31-35).
In Marcus’ sandwiching theory, Jesus’ relatives surround the demonic stuff at the core of this passage. The whole is concerned with the “ineradicable division and fierce enmity between him and the demonic forces that hold the human race in thrall and blind to its true good” (279).
Now what is important here is that 3:20-21 is about Jesus’ relatives, including Mary. The Greek hoi par’ autou means, literally, “those from beside him” and scholars today agree that this means relatives, the relatives who decide to leave Nazareth at 3:20-21 and show up in Capernaum at 3:31. Meaning, mother, brothers and sisters. That expression is found with “relatives” as the meaning also at Prov 31:21; Susanna 33; Josephus, Ant. 1.193. This expression cannot refer to “disciples” (the other possible meaning) since in 3:20 we have the disciples; they are in the house with Jesus; the “family” is outside the house and coming to the house to seize him. Nor is the crowd, for they too are mentioned in 3:20. So, we have relatives, family members.
Here’s the text:
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Now if the family members are the same as those in 3:31, then we have family members — Mary, brothers — who think Jesus is “out of his mind.” This term, also, is not really up for debate for the context is not positive about them. They think Jesus’ behaviors down in Capernaum are rowdy and damaging to reputation. We can explain this in any number of ways, and some of them quite commendable, but when we are done, we have Mary and the “brothers” thinking Jesus is out of his mind. I do not think this is a standpoint of faith, but one of unfaith, of failure within faith, of a challenge on the part of Mary to see just how it is that God will do what she said in the Magnificat, to see how God will actually bring about the shadowy side of Simeon’s sword. Her response to his work here is not positive; she thinks what he is doing is not the way God wants his will to be done.
We can push this further. If we say Mary is sinless and we say Jesus is sinless, and if we say Jesus always does the will of God, then Mary’s desire to get Jesus to come outside and to go home would an act contrary to what Jesus thought God’s will was. That, if we define sin as anything contrary to the will of God now made known in Jesus, would be an act of sin.
There are reasons, then, to conclude that this act by Mary is against the will of God.
Personally, I think she quickly adjusted to Jesus’ words. But I think her first response is not that of faith.