Tuesday, Third Week in Ordinary Time
I’m going to resist the temptation to become entangled in the meaning of the word “brother” (αδελφοι in Greek) in today’s gospel. While it is a significant question, I want to focus on what is happening in this passage more than who, exactly, it is happening to. Mostly, I want to focus on how it applies to us today.
Let us instead start with: “arrived at the house.” What house? The same house in which Jesus rebuked the scribes for saying that he healed by the power of Satan as we read yesterday.
Jesus is in the middle of teaching when Mary and his family arrive and ask for him. His response seems to brush them off. What is really going on here?
It can be dangerous to assign motive and intent where none is given. But without it, this passage is just an awkward exchange through an intermediary between Mary and Jesus.
Saint John Chrysostom views this episode as Mary pushing her “Mom privilege” a little too far and being gently rebuked for it. That may be, but why did the Gospels feel the need to relay this scene if that is all that is happening? Saint Chrysostom keys us in, surmising that Jesus needed to convince Mary he was not only her son, but her Lord.*
Being the Mother of our Lord was a great privilege, but it also carried serious dangers. Not only the need to flee to Egypt when Christ was young, but spiritual dangers as well. The temptation to pride had to be enormous. Think of how we gush over our own children (or grandchildren). But Mary’s boy really was perfect, actually did walk on water.
This is where we come into the story. Jesus replied, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother.”
Being a brother of Christ, that is, a son of God, is not about bloodlines and family trees. It is about our actions. John the Baptist taught this, saying, “Do not presume to say we have Abraham as our father.” (Matthew 3:9) Jesus also challenged the idea of relational holiness: “They answered him and said to him, ‘Our Father is Abraham.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham.'” (John 8:39)
It did them no good to be related to Abraham unless they shared Abraham’s character. It does us no good to be affiliated with Christ unless we follow him with much diligence. The Scriptures and history are full of those offspring who did not walk in the way of their parents, but instead departed from their sound example and teaching.
But thanks be to God, we have the opportunity to be sons and daughters of God if we will obey his will. Just as Mary was chosen to bear Christ in the flesh, so we are predestined to bear him in our hearts and lives. May we be worthy of the promises of Christ.
*Homily 44 on Matthew