The Gospel according to Matthew (12:46-50)
While Jesus was speaking to the crowds,
his mother and his brothers appeared outside,
wishing to speak with him.
Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside,
asking to speak with you.”
But he said in reply to the one who told him,
“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Opening Prayer: Loving Jesus, please open my heart, that I may listen for Your Father’s voice there and know His will for me. Please give me the grace of Your Holy Spirit, that I may act on the Father’s will, and so show that I am truly Your brother (or sister). Amen.
To hear what Jesus seems to be saying about His earthly relations (including His own mother!) is quite hard indeed. It’s one of those sayings that those who are not Catholic often use to show how our belief in Mary’s unique role is misguided. What could He have possibly meant?
A couple of points to ponder today – first, does Matthew truly mean that Jesus had earthly brothers and sisters, and that His Mother Mary was not a perpetual virgin, as Catholics profess? The confusion comes from what amounts to an imprecise translation from the language of Jesus’ own time (Aramaic) to English. In Aramaic, there was no word for “cousin”. Recall that in Jesus’ time, family units often lived together, so Jesus’ family would have included those who were actually cousins of Jesus, and all of them would have been called His “brothers” in Aramaic. So, the short answer is “no”, the Gospel writer is not saying that the “brothers and sisters” outside the house were actually children of Mary. They were likely His cousins.
Secondly, Jesus says that those who do the will of His Heavenly Father are His “brother and sister and mother”. Does that mean that Jesus was discounting the special place His Mother held (as we read in the Nativity narratives in the Gospels)? This is again, something that is troubling, because of the effort to translate first-century Aramaic speaking into English for us twenty centuries later. In many places in the Gospels, Jesus uses what we call “hyperbole” in His speech. Recall, He suggests that if our eye causes us to sin that we are to gouge it out, so that we don’t go whole into Gehenna. I don’t believe He intended for His disciples to go about maiming themselves. He was using what amounts to an extreme example to make a point.
Applying that to Mary here, Jesus is again using hyperbole. He doesn’t mean that following His Father’s will somehow displaces His own Mother in heaven – He means that to follow His Father’s will allows us to truly be part of His eternal family, the family we know now as the “mystical Body of Christ”. In that family, there is only one Father – God Himself. All of us are brothers and sisters, and are united in the love that Jesus lived out in His earthly life.
Some of the sayings in Scripture are more readily understood by our modern, sensible minds. We should be thankful when that is the case. For others, such as the sayings we read today, we need to ask God to help us understand and live them out in our own lives. God’s Word can speak to us – it can speak to us at all times, because God wants us to see how we can apply it in how we live and especially in how we share His eternal love with all. Don’t despair if a saying seems confusing. God doesn’t want us to be confused, but to know that His will is the way to go. Each of us needs to ask Him to show us what that perfect will is for us.
God’s wisdom is perfect. Human intellect and wisdom will always fall short of perfection. Let us ask our loving Father to help us to know and to believe that He has a plan for us and that He is the author of all that is good. May He show us today how we can truly be “brothers and sisters” of Jesus, and to make His Good News known by how we reach out in love to others.
Closing Prayer: Jesus, thank You for giving me the chance to be part of Your eternal family. May I see everyone with the dignity that Your Father gives us all, and may I reach out in love to those who are in need. May I always seek Your Father’s perfect will, today and every day. Amen.
Action for the Day: Ask God to give you the gift of some time of quiet today, and ask Him to show you what you can do to share His love with someone in your life who really needs it!