Pictures and statues of Mary the mother of Jesus and His other family members tend to portray His relatives as pious individuals who were devoted to our Savior. Certainly, many of His family members were men and women of great faith. Mary believed God's message through the angel Gabriel that she would bear the Messiah (Luke 1:26–38). James the brother of Jesus became an Apostle after our Lord's resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7). However, these artistic depictions may give us an incomplete picture of what Jesus' family actually thought about Him. After all, Scripture does not tell us that they were sinless, and there are passages suggesting that they sometimes failed to recognize Him and His message.
Mark 3:20–21 narrates one of those occasions when Jesus' family did not know who He was. First, we must note that there is some discussion as to whether these verses are actually talking about the relatives of our Lord. The "his family" of verse 21 translates a Greek expression that is most literally rendered "those of him." Contextual clues, however, indicate that we should understand this phrase as referring to Christ's relatives. It would not make sense for it to be referring to the larger crowd, since "those of him" clearly sits in distinction to the crowd in verse 20. In other words, it does not say "those of the crowd." It also does not say "of the disciples." In any case, Mark is not hesitant to tell us explicitly of those occasions when the disciples did not understand Jesus (see 4:41; 6:51–52; 8:31–33). Why, then, would he refer to them ambiguously here? Furthermore, Jesus' family, including Mary His mother, appears explicitly just a few verses later (see 3:31–35). Thus, "those of him" in Mark 3:21 must refer to those of Jesus' flesh, that is, those who shared a flesh-and-blood familial relationship with Him.
Today's passage makes it impossible to embrace doctrines such as Mary's sinlessness or to view the relatives of Jesus as super-saints who are far beyond any of the rest of us in their piety. At least at this point in Jesus' ministry, His family was blinded enough by sin to mistake His teaching for the ravings of a man suffering a bout of insanity. But this text also has an important message for anyone who becomes a disciple, or follower, of the Lord. If even Christ's own family did not understand Him and thought He was out of His mind, we should not be surprised that our relatives might think the same of us when we are faithful to our Savior.
Dr. Sproul writes in his commentary Mark that "anyone who takes his faith seriously and speaks on behalf of Christ and His kingdom will be accused of fanaticism at some point." When we follow Jesus, we will inevitably face people—perhaps even our closest relatives—who think we are strange, crazy, or maybe even evil. When this occurs, let us recall that Jesus Himself faced people who misunderstood Him. Still, He loved them, and so too must we love those who think we are fanatics.