At the beginning of Mark 3, Jesus cures a man with a withered hand (3:1-6). This isn’t abnormal, except that He performs this healing on the Sabbath day – infuriating the Pharisees. Jesus, in turn, “…looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart” (3:5) – and this is the only time that we read Jesus ever regarding a person or group of people with anger. He looks with sadness, with compassion, with love, but the fact that the Pharisees just don’t seem to get it provokes this response from the Lord.
The Pharisees, as spiritual leaders of Jerusalem really struggled with Jesus. According to the Catechism, this is because, in their eyes (CCC 576):
Jesus seems to be acting against essential institutions of the Chosen People:
– submission to the whole of the Law in its written commandments and, for the Pharisees, in the interpretation of oral tradition;
– the centrality of the Temple at Jerusalem as the holy place where God’s presence dwells in a special way;
– faith in the one God whose glory no man can share.
This leads them to conspire with the Herodians, a political group in Israel (that the Pharisees would normally want nothing to do with) to destroy Jesus. We can look at them and condemn each of them for their hardness of heart, but you should also give them a little leeway. The Pharisees were likely the group in Israel who taught the closest to what Jesus was teaching. It’s a big part of why He was so hard on them elsewhere in the Gospels: they were so close to understanding what He was doing, and yet still missing the point. The Herodians, on the other hand, were hoping for a temporal Messiah in the spirit of Moses or David: someone who would liberate them from the Roman occupation. Ultimately, they couldn’t accept Jesus as He was, and the hardness of their heart drove them away from Him, and led to His arrest and execution.
For our sake, though, it is worth examining: are our hearts hard? Do we have an image or an idea of the way God is supposed to act… and we turn away from Him when He turns out to be different or challenging to what we expected?
Next, Jesus cures many by the sea of Galilee (3:7-12). This seems like typical Gospel material… Jesus is healing people, and a big crowd gathers around Him. But the Navarre Bible offers a few reflections on this:
This crowding round Jesus is repeated by Christians of all times: the holy human nature of our Lord is our only route to salvation; it is the essential means we must use to unite ourselves to God. Thus, we can today approach our Lord by means of the Sacraments, especially and pre-eminently the Eucharist… (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas,Summa Theologiae, 3, 62, 5).
In other words: when we gather as a community around Christ (as we do at Mass), we are repeating this moment in the Gospel… drawing near to Christ in hopes that He will touch us and heal us. Do you go to Mass or confession with that sort of faith?
Third, Jesus chooses His twelve apostles (3:13-19). The twelve are chosen to be the pillars of the Church, tasked with making disciples, teaching, sanctifying, and governing. The Pope and Bishops are the successors of these, who have the same task laid out for them. Note that Jesus’ original twelve are not the elite of His day: you have among them fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot (a first century terrorist), and even one who wouldn’t get it (Judas). But each was chosen by Christ because He believed God could work through them.
Imagine for a moment what that would feel like: Jesus choosing you for a particular mission. And then realize that this is precisely the case: He has chosen you. The question is, have you offered your response?
The fourth part of this chapter takes place in two parts. Jesus relatives approach Him, thinking He’s lost His mind (3:20-21), and later His Mother and brothers come to see Him (3:31-35). Consider the extent of what Jesus did for you: the people who knew him best thought he was crazy. Many saints have faced the same accusation of being insane – and in a sense, this is true: they are madly, head over heels, passionately in love with Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas’ family once locked him in a tower, hoping to tempt him away from religious life with a prostitute. St. Clare’s family sent seven Knights to “rescue” her from religious life. If you choose to follow Jesus, it is completely possible that some will think you are a little crazy… but that just means you’re in good company.
There’s often a bit of debate here about the use of the term brothers or brethren – the ones who come, with Mary, to visit Jesus. Catholics hold to the belief that Mary was not only a virgin when Jesus was born, but that she remained such for her whole life. The most obvious biblical evidence for this is the way she questions Gabriel at the Annunciation: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) – if you consider that she was engaged to be married, the idea of having a child shouldn’t be this shocking. That is, unless you have made some sort of promise or vow to virginity. That being said, the use of “brothers” in English is a translation of a much broader Aramaic term, which could be used to refer to cousins or relatives in general. So this verse on its own doesn’t prove that Mary had other children – and there is also a theory that Joseph was an older man, a widower, at the time of his engagement to Mary… and that Jesus’ “brothers” were from Joseph’s first marriage.
That being said, the key part here is verse 35: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus isn’t trying to disown His mother or His family, but recognizing that what is most important isn’t a blood relation to Jesus, but rather one’s willingness to hear God’s word and respond to it. This is what Mary did.
Finally, Jesus performs another healing and the scribes attribute his work to the devil (3:22-30). Jesus goes on to say that this attributing the work of God to the devil is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” – a sin that cannot be forgiven. Does this mean that committing this sin so offends God that he can’t forgive you? Is anything impossible for God? (Not according to the Archangel Gabriel: “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). What makes this particular sin unforgiveable is that such a person rejects Christ, His teaching, and His miracles; and hates the work of the Holy Spirit as though it was a trick designed to trap Him. He or she closes their heart to the possibility of God working. The God who respects your freedom and mine honors that choice: we have closed our hearts to Him and therefore are incapable of receiving His forgiveness. When you consider that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, you actually need to be sorry to be forgiven, you start to see how dangerous this type of sin might be. It also creates quite the contrast with those like His mother who hear and do the will of God.