The command for children to honor parents is well known – it’s the fifth of the 10 Commandments found in Exodus 20, referenced frequently throughout the Old Testament, and it’s even the first commandment that comes with a promise for those who obey it (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:2).
We know that Jesus never sinned, and because of that he perfectly fulfilled all the law and commandments. However, Jesus’ response to his mother in Mark 3:31-35 seems strange in light of the commandment to honor your parents. When Jesus was informed that his mother and other family members were looking for him, it seems like Jesus almost disregards Mary. He asks, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”
At first glance, that doesn’t seem to be particularly honoring. But, a look into the context and language of the whole encounter help shed some light on why Jesus would respond that way.
First, Jesus’ mother and brothers were attempting to prevent him from continuing his ministry. Mark 3:32 says that they were “seeking” him, but that word in the Greek carries a deeper meaning: to strive for, to obtain control of. Earlier in Mark 3, we see that they previously tried to restrain Jesus from what he was doing because they thought he was crazy, and they were embarrassed. This seems to be a continuation of that attempt.
Second, it seems Mary and Jesus’ brothers were trying to exercise an authority over Jesus that they didn’t have. In verse 31 it says that they “called him,” and while the word in the original Greek is used to indicate what you would call (or name) a child, it’s also often used with the idea of someone with authority summoning another person into their presence. The word is most often used in the New Testament to describe how God calls us into relationship with him.
When a child has grown into a mature, independent adult, honoring parents no longer includes obeying them; the God-ordained authority that parents have over a child no longer exists. At that point, honoring parents takes on a different form – including ensuring that aging parents are provided for and taken care of.
Jesus did not obey his mother in this situation from Mark 3, because she didn’t have the authority to command him in the first place. In fact, had he obeyed her, he would have done her more harm than good because he would have affirmed her sinful desires and actions. However, Jesus did continue to honor his parents, and that is made clearly evident in one of the last things he said before he died.
On the cross, Jesus looked down at his mother and instructed the “disciple whom he loved” (many think this is John) to take care of her and treat her as if she were his own mother (John 19:25-27). Here, Jesus gives us an ultimate picture of what it means to honor one’s parents. Even suffering in his own death, Jesus put his mother’s needs above his own.