Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
The gospel passage has troubled Catholics for centuries. First, it seems to indicate that Jesus had brothers and sisters when we hold that Mary remained a virgin all her life. And then it apparently shows Jesus rejecting his own family when we know the importance of family and the need to honor one’s parents. “What’s going on?” we might ask.
The answers to these charges are not that difficult to understand although they may not be completely satisfying. The evangelist Mark, from whose gospel the passage is taken, was evidently not aware of the tradition that Jesus’ mother was a virgin. He does not mention the birth of Jesus, but begins his gospel with John preaching in the desert and Jesus coming to him for baptism. Anyway, his references to Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” do not necessarily mean that they were full brothers and sisters. Perhaps they were half-brothers (the children of Joseph by another woman) or even cousins since the Hebrew word (and its Greek equivalent) for brother is sometimes used to mean cousin or nephew. The latter explanation is given by the biblical scholar St. Jerome who was not liberal in interpreting the Bible.
A few verses earlier the gospel actually says that Jesus’ relatives thought him to be “’out of his mind’” when they come looking for him. We can wonder what they would now think if they could hear Jesus’ reply to the news that they were seeking him. Perhaps they would have been even more convinced that he is mad. But we might also surmise that they finally perceive why he left them to preach about God.
No, Jesus is not out of his mind when he calls his mother, brothers and sisters (here certainly the terms are used figuratively) as those who “do(es) the will of God.” All who follow God’s ways belong to God’s family. Nevertheless, the gospel of Mark is gradually revealing how Jesus is uniquely God’s son. Toward the end of the gospel, a Roman centurion will declare this truth. After watching Jesus die an excruciating death without bitterness, he openly declares, “’Truly this man was the son of God!’” Therefore, we may conclude, we have to follow both Jesus’ his teaching and his example.