Homilette for Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 10:1-10; Mark 3:31-35)

The gospel passage today 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 up?

Adequate explanations are not difficult to understand. The evangelist Mark, from whose gospel the passage is taken, is evidently not aware of the tradition that Jesus’ mother is 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. In any case, the references to Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” here do not necessarily mean that they were born to Mary. Perhaps they are Jesus’ half-brothers and sisters – children of Joseph who was possibly widowed before committing himself to the care of Mary and Jesus. A more traditional explanation sees these visitors as distant relatives of Jesus since the Hebrew word (and its Greek equivalent) for brother is sometimes used to mean cousin or nephew. This account is given by St. Jerome, a Biblical scholar renowned for literal attentiveness.

It would be rash to say that Jesus rejects his blood relatives when he recognizes others as his spiritual family. We rightly see his mother, Mary, as the epitome of sanctity, and his “brother,” James, as the eventual leader of the Jerusalem Christian community. It is also critical that we see ourselves among Jesus’ “brothers and sisters.” This distinction entails, of course, that we do as he says -- practice the will of God.