Who are my mother and brother and sisters?
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” The Gospel of St. Matthew 12:48-50
A Misinterpretation with implications
This biblical passage is sometimes misinterpreted. Some argue that it stands for the proposition that Jesus was making a comment intended to lessen the importance of his earthly mother.
This “mother is unimportant” interpretation is textually inaccurate and theologically mistaken. It runs contrary to the biblical context of the encounter and rejects the consistent, unbroken Christian tradition. Such a misreading ascribes a minimalist role to Mary in the Christian revelation and consequently in the life of every Christian.
More importantly, in so doing; it can also cause one to miss a profound truth concerning the Christian life and vocation. It can discourage one from digging deeper into the text and thereby grasping a deep, profoundly important insight. This insight has great implications and can lead to a deeper experience of the Christian life.
I stand with the Christian tradition, rooted in the patristic literature (writings of the early Church fathers), and ascribe to the exact opposite interpretation. The opposite of this “mother is less important” claim is what is being revealed through these words and in this encounter. Understood in this light, this passage reveals a framework for an authentically human and relational spirituality, a spirituality of communion.
A Spirituality of Communion
Through our Baptism, we are all invited into the very “family” of God. When we choose to be obedient to the will of God; we enter into an eternal relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We actually become a part of the “family” of God; we become “mother” sister” and “brother” to the Lord.
We enter into “communion” with the Trinitarian God.
This interchange was recorded for all time for a purpose. Through it, Jesus teaches us something about the interior meaning of our personal redemption, the redemption of the whole human race and the redemption of the entire created order. The message is simple but profound; God is a God of love and relationship. He has invited us into an intimate and eternal communion.
“Behold your mother; …behold your son”
In His final act of Self-giving love, revealed for all eternity on Golgotha’s Hill, Jesus also elevated and expanded the importance of His mother and “brothers”. We read about this encounter in the Gospel of St. John.
Picture the poignant scene, right before He was to breathe His last breath:
“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother 11 and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son."Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:26-27).
From antiquity, the Fathers of the Church have correctly and uniformly taught that this encounter was also about more than the relationship between the Apostle John (whom sacred scripture calls “the beloved disciple”) and Mary the mother of the Lord. It was –and is- about the expanded family of the Church, the community that Jesus came to found - and of which He is the Head.
As a final gift, right before He died, He gave His mother to the whole family, through giving her to the beloved disciple John. This was a gift for all of us, an exchange, an expansion of the family. In this exchange, the tradition has long taught, He also entrusted all of us to her.
Something of the interior meaning of this exchange is what is being truly revealed in the passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew with which we began this discussion. Jesus was not minimizing His relationship with His mother through these words given in response to the crowd, He was expanding it. He hungers, through Divine love, to include all of us in the “family circle” of God. In doing so, He invites us on the journey home.
In this exchange, Jesus really opens up the interior importance and meaning of the motherhood of Mary - and through that relationship – the interior meaning of all family relationships. He gives to those with ears to hear and eyes to see, a key insight - familial relationships touch upon, model and make present an eternal mystery into which each of us, who are baptized ...
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