Jesus Verse by Verse

an expanded commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

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Digression 9 Mary’s Mid-Life Crisis

When Mary stands outside the house asking to speak with Jesus (Mt. 12:46), Mary is identified with her other children who considered Jesus crazy. Jesus says that His mothers are those who hear the word of God and do it. This must have so cut her. There is a rather unpleasant connection between Mk. 3:32 “they stood without” and Mark 4:11 "unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables". And further, Lk. 13:25 speaks of how the rejected shall stand without [same words] knocking and asking to speak with the Lord. Mk. 3:20 RVmg. says that Jesus came home- i.e. to the family home in Nazareth, and it turned out that the interested visitors took the house over, with His relatives, mother, brothers, sisters etc. left outside (Mk. 3:21 RVmg.). No wonder the point was made that He now had a new family; and His natural family, Mary amongst them, resented it. 
The incident of Mary and her other children coming to Jesus is inserted by Mark in the context of his record that the Scribes concluded that He had “an unclean spirit”. In that same context, we read that Mary and His brothers concluded that He was “beside himself” (Mk. 3:21,22). The language of demon / unclean spirit possession is used in the Gospels to describe mental rather than physical illness. The Scribes thought that Jesus was demon possessed; His family and mother thought He was mentally ill. The two thoughts are parallel, as if to imply that His family had been influenced by the prevailing opinion of the elders about Him. The Lord responded to the Scribes by warning them that they ran the risk of blaspheming the Holy Spirit by saying this of Him. And it would appear that His own mother may have been running the same risk. This is such a tragic difference from the young, spiritually minded woman who was so convinced that her Son was indeed Messiah and the uniquely begotten Son of God. And it happened simply because she was influenced by what others thought of Jesus, rather than what she had learnt from the word and experienced herself. It’s a powerful warning to us. 
In Mk. 3:21,31-35 we read of how “his own” family thought He was crazy and came to talk to Him. Then we read that it was His mother and brothers who demanded an audience with Him, perhaps linking Mary with her other children. Their cynicism of Jesus, their lack of perception of Him, came to influence her- for He effectively rebuffs her special claims upon Him by saying that His mother and brethren are all who hear God’s word. The parallel Mt. 12:46-50 five times repeats the phrase “his mother and his brethren”, as if to link her with them. Clearly the brothers, who didn’t believe in Jesus (Jn. 7:5) influenced her. When He speaks of how His real family are those who hear the word of God and do it, the Lord is alluding to Dt. 33:9, where we have the commendation of Levi for refusing to recognize his apostate brethren at the time of the golden calf: “Who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren…for they [Levi] have observed thy word, and kept thy covenant”. The last sentence is  the essence of the Lord’s saying that His true family are those who keep God’s word and do it. The strong implication of the allusion is that the Lord felt that His mother and brethren had committed some kind of apostasy.  
Note how in Mk. 3:32 we read that “thy mother and brethren seek for thee”, and in Mk. 1:37 the same word occurred: “all men seek for thee" ; and also in Lk. 2:45, of how Mary sought for Jesus. The similarity is such that the intention may be to show us how Mary had been influenced by the world's perception of Him. And we too can be influenced by the world’s light hearted view of the Lord of glory. It’s so easy to allow their patterns of language use to lead us into blaspheming, taking His Name in vain, seeing His religion as just a hobby, a social activity… 
In passing, it was not that the Lord was insensitive or discounted her. It is in Mt. 12:46 that Mary wanted to speak with Him, and presumably she did- but then He goes to His home town, back to where she had come from (Mt. 13:54), as if He did in fact pay her attention .
Lost Sense of Reality
The only open revelations to Joseph and Mary are those recorded at the time of His conception and birth. As the years went by, these could have come to seem as mere dreams. The reality for Joseph was that his bride had suddenly disappeared for 3 months and then returned pregnant, and then he had a dream telling him that she was the one and only woman of all time who had gotten pregnant without intercourse. Joseph comes over in the record as very obedient and spiritually minded initially. He doesn’t divorce her, and in any case He had wanted to do it discreetly so as not to humiliate her. And perhaps He took her with him to Bethlehem because He wanted to be with her when the baby was delivered. And yet I wonder, and no more than wonder, whether his disappearance from the narratives is not because he died [which is pure assumption too] but because he left Mary, deciding that the story was just a hoax, and all he had to go on were two dimly remembered dreams of years ago. For Mary too, it must have been tempting to just shake her head and wonder at her own sanity…for after all, could it really have been so that she got pregnant through an Angel visiting her…? For the Angel only appeared once to her, as far as we know. The world around them would have considered Jesus to be illegitimate- hence the Jews saying that they did not know “from whence this man is” whereas they were sure who their fathers were. “We were not born illegitimate…” they scoffed (Jn. 8:41). And the Talmud and other Jewish writings record the charge that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. He would surely have been teased as a child about His father. It has been suggested that the title “son of Mary” given to Him in Mk. 6:3 implied that they considered Him illegitimate- for men were usually called by their father’s name. ““Jesus, son of Mary” has a pejorative sense… [there is a] Jewish principle: A man is illegitimate when he is called by his mother’s name” (1). The perception of the surrounding world may have influenced Joseph, and must have surely given rise to at least temptations of doubt within Mary as the years went by.  
In this context, let's note that the Lord was accused of being a drunkard, a glutton, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Mt. 11:19; Lk. 7:34). This is all language reminiscent of the commands for the parents to slay the 'rebellious son' of Dt. 21:18-21. It's conceivable that one of the reasons why His death was demanded was because of this. Hence His relatives sought to take Him away out of public sight. It's also been claimed that the Jews' complaint that Jesus 'made Himself equal to the Father'(Jn. 5:18) is alluding to a rabbinic expression which speaks of the 'rebellious son' of Dt. 21 as being a son who makes himself equal to his father (2). The shame of being Jesus' mother eventually wore off upon Mary, or so it seems to me. Just as the shame of standing up for Christian principles can wear us down, too. In passing, note that the prodigal son is likewise cast in the role of the 'rebellious son' who should be killed; the correspondence suggests that the Lord Jesus can identify with sinners like the prodigal because He was treated as if He were a sinner, a rebellious son; even though He was not in actuality.
To my mind, one of the most artless and surpassing things about the Lord was that He lived a sinless life for 30 years, and yet when He began His ministry those He lived with were shocked that He could ever be the Messiah. He was “in favour” with men (Lk. 2:52), not despised and resented as many righteous men have been. He was the carpenter, a good guy- but not Son of God. Somehow He showed utter perfection in a manner which didn’t distance ordinary people from Him. There was no ‘other-wordliness’ to Him which we so often project to those we live with. We seem to find it hard to live a good life without appearing somehow distasteful to those around us. In fact the villagers were scandalized [skandalizein] that Jesus should even be a religious figure; they had never noticed His wisdom, and wondered where He had suddenly gotten it from (Mk. 6:2,3). This suppression of His specialness, His uniqueness, must have been most disarming and confusing to Mary. Her son appeared as an ordinary man; there was no halo around His head, no special signs. Just an ordinary guy. And this may well have eroded her earlier clear understanding that here in her arms was the Son of God. Until age 30, the Lord was “hidden” as an arrow in a quiver (Is. 49:2). So profound was this that Mary may have come to doubt whether after all He was really as special as she had thought, 30 years ago. 30 years is a long time. We also need to bear in mind that opposition to Jesus both from the other siblings and from His home town was significant. A fair case can be made that He actually moved away to Capernaum, perhaps before the start of His ministry. Mk. 2:1 RVmg. describes Him as being “at home” there; Mt. 4:13 NIV says He lived there; Mt. 9:1 calls it his “own city” (cp. Mk. 2:1). Don’t forget that the Nazareth people tried to kill Jesus early on in His ministry- this was how strong the opposition was. And Mary had to show herself for or against... and it seems she at least on the surface didn’t exactly show herself for Him. 
Mary’s lack of perception caused her great pain. The way the Lord refers to her as “Woman” both in Cana was, apparently, an unusually cold way for a man to refer to his mother. He effectively rebuffed her in Cana for her lack of perception; He responds to the woman who tells Him how blessed His mother is by saying that all who hear the word of God and keep it are equally blessed. And when His mother wants to speak to Him, He says in front of the whole crowd that His mothers are all who do God’s will. And the final pain must have been at the cross, where in His dying words He tells her that she is no longer His mother, but she must now be the mother of John. Simeon’s prophecy that a sword would pierce her soul (Lk. 2:35- the Syriac text has ‘a spear’) may refer to her feelings on beholding the literal piercing of her son’s side- remembering that He was pierced with “the staff of a spear” (2 Sam. 23:7), it went in so deep. The fact water as well as blood came out is further evidence that the spear penetrated deeply. Yet there is an allusion surely to Is. 49:1,2, where Messiah’s mouth is likened to a sharp, piercing sword. Note how the passage has reference to Mary: “The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword”. Could it not be that Simeon foresaw how the Lord’s words would pierce Mary to the quick? For in all the incidents above, she must have thought with a lump in her throat: ‘But come on Jesus… I’m your mum… the one who knitted and mended your clothes as a child… how can you speak to me like that…?’. And as a sensitive, reflective soul she would have reflected and hurt deeply at these words.  
Mary’s Re-Conversion
Yet as for us, Mary’s salvation was in the cross. Being there, meditating upon it, resulted in her overcoming all her barriers and isolationism, her locked up in herself-ness, and meeting with the other brethren (Acts 1:14). I imagine her somewhere in the crowd, as the majority cried out “Barabbas! Barabbas!”. Eyes wide with desperation, I imagine her and a few others waving their arms and screaming “Jesus! Jesus!”. And watching Him as He was pushed and dragged along the Via Dolorossa to Golgotha.  But in the end, the sword / spear that pierced the Lord pierced her heart, “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed”. The cross is therefore the ultimate source of self-examination. The Greek for “thoughts” means “inmost thoughts”, and all 13 uses of dialogismos in the NT are negative- bad thoughts, vain thoughts, doubting thoughts. The five other references in Luke are all very pointedly like this (Lk. 5:22; 6:8; 9:46,47; 24:38). We all find self-understanding and self-examination difficult; and we find it hard to feel our sinfulness as we should. Yet the cross is the ultimate stimulus to self-examination, to conviction of sin, and then of salvation and the reality of grace and God’s love. This same process happened for Mary “also”. Over the years she had perhaps lost something of her initial humility, feeling that her exalted place in God’s plan was due to some personal righteousness, and therefore the cross experience had to pierce her too, so that she too had the inmost thoughts of her heart revealed to herself. We have shown earlier how Mary so identified herself with her dearest Son that she felt in some way part of Messiah. Yet over the years of repetitive domestic life in Nazareth, the height of the call to be “in Christ”, really part of Him and His work, must have been ground away. Yet at the cross, her soul was as it were pierced with the same sword / spear that pierced her Son. Ps. 22:20 prophesied how the Lord would suffer “the sword” on the cross, and 2 Sam. 24 had spoken of Him being filled with a spear. “A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also” meant that as Mary was part of Jesus, so she must also share in His sufferings too. The proud and happy mother as she stood before Simeon was so thrilled to be as it were “In Christ”, connected with Messiah. But she had to be reminded that to share in His life is to share in His death- and it was only the actual experience of the cross which brought this home to her. And so with us, brethren in Christ, and rightfully proud of the high calling and association with Him which we have… there is a darker side to our being in Christ. It involves sharing in His death, that we might share in His life. Mary’s achievement of this is perhaps reflected in the way the mother of the man child [Jesus] in Rev. 12 is persecuted after the pattern of her Son Jesus, and yet survives. 
The re-conversion of Mary resulted partly from her having her soul cut by the sharp sword of the mouth of her son, when He told her that He was no longer her son, and she was no longer His mother. It is entirely possible that the sister of Jesus’ mother mentioned in the account of the crucifixion is to be identified with the woman named Salome mentioned in Mark 15:40 and also with the woman identified as “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” mentioned in Matt 27:56. If so, and if John the Apostle is to be identified as the beloved disciple, then the reason for the omission of the second woman’s name becomes clear; she would have been John’s own mother, and he consistently omitted direct reference to himself or his brother James or any other members of his family in the fourth Gospel. Therefore " behold your mother" meant he was to reject his mother and take Mary as his mother, to alleviate the extent of her loss. Finally Mary came to see Jesus as Jesus, as the Son of God, and not just as her son. This was her conversion- to see Him for who He was, uncluttered by her own perceptions of Him, by the baggage of everything else. And so it can be with us in re-conversion. We each must face the reality of who Jesus really is, quite apart from all the baggage of how we were brought up to think of Him: the Sunday School Jesus, the Jesus of the apostate church, the Jesus we have come to imagine from our own human perceptions…must give way when we are finally confronted with who He really is.  
This line of thought is born out by a consideration of Mk. 15:40,41: “There were also women beholding from afar: among whom were both Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the little and of Joses, and Salome; who, when he was in Galilee, followed him and ministered unto him: and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem”. Jesus had two brothers named James and Joses (Mt. 13:55). If the principle of interpreting Scripture by Scripture means anything, then we can fairly safely assume that the Mary referred to here is Mary the mother of Jesus. It was perhaps due to the influence and experience of the cross that His brother James called himself “the little”, just as Saul changed his name to Paul, ‘the little one’, from likewise reflecting on the height of the Lord’s victory. So within the crowd of women, there were two women somehow separate from the rest- “among whom were both Mary Magdalene, and Mary”. Mary Magdalene was the bashful ex-hooker who was almost inevitably in love with Jesus. The other Mary was His mother. Understandably they forged a special bond with each other. Only Mary Magdalene had fully perceived the Lord’s upcoming death, hence her annointing of His body beforehand. And only His Mother had a perception approaching that of the Magdalene. It’s not surprising that the two of them were somehow separate from the other women. These women are described as following Him when He was in Galilee; and the mother of Jesus is specifically recorded as having done this, turning up at the Cana wedding uninvited, and then coming to the house where Jesus was preaching.  The description of the women as ‘coming up’ (the idiom implies ‘to keep a feast’) with Him unto Jerusalem takes the mind back to Mary bringing Jesus up to Jerusalem at age 12. But my point is, that Mary is called now “the mother of James…and of Joses”. The same woman appears in Mk. 16:1: “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James…had bought sweet spices that they might come and anoint him”. Earlier in the Gospels, Mary is always “the mother of Jesus”. Now she is described as the mother of her other children. It seems to me that this is the equivalent of John recording how Mary was told by Jesus at the cross that she was no longer the mother of Jesus, He was no longer her son. The other writers reflect this by calling her at that time “Mary the mother of James” rather than the mother of Jesus. The way that Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene rather than to His mother (Mk. 16:9) is surely God’s confirmation of this break between Jesus and His earthly mother. 
Isaiah 53, as I understand it, is an explanation of why Israel refused to accept the message / report of the cross. One of the reasons given is that “we have turned every one to his own way”. Note, in passing, how Isaiah identifies himself with his unbelieving people, after the pattern of Ezra and Daniel. Each person was so dominated by their own individual miseries, sins, griefs, that they failed to accept the real message of the cross. And so it is, that the world lacks cohesion and unity; for they turn each to their own way. For those who respond to the report of the cross, there is, conversely, a unity which comes from the common knowledge that all our private sins and personal struggles are resolved in Him, as He was there. So we each have the tendencies of Mary, to turn to our own way. But the cross should convert us from this. And it seems to me that Mary’s conversion was due to the cross; for all we know of her after it was that she was meeting together with the other believers in the upper room.
The more one reads Mary’s song, the more it becomes apparent that these words are poetic, and carefully thought out rather than just instantly uttered. There are also many past tenses in the context of the salvation that had been achieved. One wonders whether Mary re-phrased her composition, under inspiration, after the resurrection, and this is the version that Luke has recorded. Remember that Luke says that all he writes he assembled from eyewitnesses; therefore after the resurrection he would have asked Mary to give her account in order to provide his material. If this is so, then we have more evidence for believing that the victory of Jesus through death and resurrection had a deep impact upon Mary. And yet it must still be accepted that Mary did perceive in the very birth of Messiah, the victory of God. Her rejoicing clearly alluded to Hab. 3:18 “I shall rejoice in the Lord; I shall take joy in God my saviour / Jesus”, and also Ps. 35:9: “Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord; it will delight in his salvation / Jesus”.  
One would have expected that Jesus would have first of all appeared to His dear mother, after resurrecting. Indeed there was a time when I assumed that this happened, although inspiration has more spiritual culture than to record such a personal event in the Lord’s life. But I have to face up to Mk. 16:9: “Now when he was risen…he appeared first to Mary Magdalene”. His mother could so easily have taken this as yet another snub, similar to the way in which He had rebuked her for not knowing He must be in His Father’s house, how He addressed her at Cana as “Woman” and asked her what He had to do with her; how He told those who informed Him that His mother was outside that all those who heard God’s word were His mothers; how He said that His mother wasn’t blessed for suckling Him, but rather, blessed were all those who heard God’s word. And the way He chose to appear to the other Mary rather than His own mother could have been taken by her as yet another snub. Yet these incidents weren’t snubs. The Lord loved His mother, with a depth of passion and emotion that maybe we [and she] will never know. Yet He wanted the best for her spiritually. He wanted her to relate to Him for who He really was, not for who she perceived Him to be. It must have so hurt the Lord to work with her in this way. And so it is with His workings with us, as He seeks to bring us to know Him in truth. It must be hard for Him to bring distress into our lives. Yet with His dear mother, it worked. For the next we read of her, she is meeting with the rest of the ecclesia in Jerusalem (Acts 1:14), and, according to how we read Revelation 12, the Lord Himself saw her as clothed with the sun in glory, responsible for the birth of Himself as the man child, who would bring the Kingdom of God on earth. She made it in the end. They say you get there in the end, and so it will ultimately be with each of us, after her pattern.
(1) Raymond Brown, The Birth Of The Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1993) p. 540.
(2) James F. McGrath. "A rebellious son? Hugo Odeberg and the interpretation of John 5.18" New Testament Studies 44.3 (1998): 470-473. Available at: