The New Testament Gospels provide four independent accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Since they all deal with the same subject matter, there is understandably a great deal of overlap. Nevertheless, as each inspired author writes from a unique perspective, there are also a number of observable differences.According to the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus returned to his home community and taught in the local synagogue, the following sentiment was expressed about him: "‘Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?’ So they were offended at Him" (6:3 NKJV). In the other Gospels Jesus is referred to as "the carpenter’s son" (Matthew 13:55), "Joseph’s son" (Luke 4:22), and "the son of Joseph" (John 6:42) respectively. Only in Mark’s account is he identified as "the Son of Mary." While all of these statements were no doubt made, why has Mark chosen to record this particular expression? Its significance depends on the perspective with which it is viewed.
Words of Contempt
From the standpoint of those who originally made the observation, it may have been intended as an insult. Within Jewish culture, one’s lineage was almost always linked to his father and/or other male ancestors (cf. Matthew 10:2-3; 16:17; Luke 3:23-38; etc.). An exception would be when there was a question about the moral integrity of one’s parentage (cf. Gen. 21:9-10; Judges 11:1-2). The residents of this particular community knew Jesus and his family, and the older generation would surely have remembered the alleged scandal of about three decades earlier.
Mary, betrothed to a local carpenter named Joseph, seemed to be a virtuous young lady. But one day, after a visit to the hill country of Judah, she returned pregnant, and Joseph wasn’t the baby’s father! Now we have the advantage of knowing what was going on behind the scenes (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-45), but the contemporary locals presumably did not. You can imagine the shameful reports generated by the small-town rumor mill! Fast forward 30+ years as the hometown folks pondered: "Is this not . . . the Son of Mary?" Could there have been an undertone of contempt in these words? When Mark goes on to say that they were "offended" at him, the term he uses is skandalizō, the source of our English word "scandal." From this vantage point, Jesus is treated with disrespect and summarily dismissed. Is the prevailing world view of modern times any different?
From a purely historical perspective, another connotation emerges. The fact that Mary is specifically named and her husband conspicuously unnamed may indicate that Joseph was no longer around, having died and leaving behind a widow with at least seven children. The last time in scripture Joseph is depicted alive is Luke 2:41-51, when young Jesus was merely twelve years old. Afterwards there are numerous references to Mary, almost always in the company of her children (Luke 8:19; John 2:1, 12; etc.), but Joseph is nowhere to be found. By the time the Lord’s public ministry had begun, if his mother was in fact a widow left to care for her family alone, what responsibilities did Jesus have toward her and his younger siblings? And did he fulfill these domestic obligations or did he forsake them?
If certain texts are read in isolation (e.g. Mark 3:31-35; 10:29-30), one might get the impression that Jesus neglected or even abandoned his temporal family, thereby giving others permission to do the same. But nothing could be further from the truth! As the Lord’s earthly ministry was carried out, his mother and his brothers (and sisters) remained in his company (John 2:12), and before his death he ensured that they would continue to be taken care of (John 19:25-27; cf. Acts 1:13-14). From this perspective we learn the divine expectation of fulfilling family duties (cf. 1 Timothy 5:8), exemplified in the life of Christ.
When Jesus is called "the Son of Mary," there is a third consideration. From a theological standpoint, the fulfillment of messianic prophecy is indicated. God had spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [i.e. ‘God with us’]" (Isaiah 7:14). Seven centuries later, when baby Jesus is supernaturally conceived in Mary’s womb without a human father, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled (Matthew 1:21-23). Having been "born of a woman" by divine decree, Jesus is thus recognized as the Son of God (Galatians 4:4). Seeing that he is linked to humanity through his biological mother while maintaining his union with divinity ("God with us"), he serves as the perfect mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5).
Who is the Son of Mary? From a worldly point of view, he is someone to be ridiculed and disregarded. From a historical standpoint, he is seen as a real person with a real family who took seriously his responsibilities as a devoted son and older brother. From a theological viewpoint, he is God in the flesh, providing redemption for mankind and reconciliation to the heavenly throne. How is the Son of Mary viewed from your perspective?
--Kevin L. Moore
Related Posts: Tempted as we are, Isaiah 7:14