On Hearing & Not Doing

Mark 1-3 is filled with random characters responding to Jesus in various ways.  Mark 3:31-35 is something of a concluding episode, where Jesus notes the sort of response that indicates participation in the kingdom of God.

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

What constitutes membership in Jesus’ family?  Listening to Jesus’ teaching and doing what he says.

One of the unsettling responses to Jesus is that of the crowd in 1:21-28.  After a dramatic exorcism by Jesus in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and they spread the word about Jesus throughout Galilee (vv. 27-28).  This certainly seems commendable!

But Mark doesn’t report this response positively.  In fact, the form of their response echoes the forceful provocation of the demon in v. 24.  They express their amazement with the question, “What is this?” while the demon opposes himself to Jesus with the expression, “What is there between us and you?”

Mark seems to be indicating that the response of the crowd, while enthusiastic, was inadequate.

This reminded me of Ezekiel 33:30-33:

“As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.

James and Paul both have discussions along this line (James 2:14-25; Romans 2:13).  Appreciation for God’s word, regular hearing of sermons, and professions of faith are irrelevant if obedience is absent.

I find passages like these haunting because I’m all too familiar with reports of amazing sermons and awesome times of worship where the Spirit of God was so obviously present.  Without dismissing those reports, I would just note that subtle dangers lurk in those moments.  We may have the illusion that the job has been done if our hearts have been warmed or if we’ve shown some appreciation for God and his word.

Several biblical authors indicate that such responses are inadequate.  Mark goes a step further and hints that such responses—without enacted obedience—put us in the company of demons.


3 responses to “On Hearing & Not Doing

  • Andrew

    The connection you suggest between [Mark 3:31-35] and [Ezekiel 33:30-33] is quite nice! Clearly your emphasis here is pastoral, and it’s a great observation. Notwithstanding the pastoral observation, I’ve wondered about the specific circumstances that lead Jesus to say these things.

    I’ve heard that Some are offended at Jesus’s response because, it is argued, it was not honouring to mother à la the 5th commandment. I’ve also heard that some (all?) of Jesus’ brothers did not become followers until after his death.

    If true, is it reasonable to infer that Jesus may have been making a point to his familial brothers – that with respect to one’s relationship to the Son of Man one’s disobedience trumps one’s blood relationship? (It’s almost Jacob/Esau-esque; where Jacob and Esau were both familial sons of Isaac yet only Jacob was the heir to the promised covenant, because Esau disqualified himself from the covenant relationship).

    Could the circumstance Mark records here be the basis for Paul’s theology of disqualification [1 Cor 9:27][Romans 9-11] etc.

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  • Jaime Hancock

    Tim,
    I’ve had a busy start to this school year, and I’ve been away for a little while, so I’m just catching up on some of your older posts.
    This line really hit me:
    “We may have the illusion that the job has been done if our hearts have been warmed, or if we’ve shown some appreciation for God and his word.”

    How many times has that been true in my own life?

    You bring great questions to these passages, and I find that I have been so nourished in my own soul from pondering and acting on things I’ve read here on your blog. Thank you.

    Grace and Peace,
    Jaime

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